Gremlins in the Garage!

Getting Started
Oil Paints
by Donal V. Buckley
I've been using Windor & Newton and Daler Rowney Oils on metal minis for about 5 years. I had been looking at some photos of military models in "Military Modelling" magazine and while I wasn't interested in the subject I was awed by the painting techniques so I decided to give it a try. Oil paint gives a "richness" and depth of colour that is unsurpassed by any other medium but is inherently more difficult to work with. If you are prepared to accept it's drawbacks then you will be richly rewarded in your finished product.

A Quick Introduction to Oil Painting Models

You will need:


Good quality sable brushes. Don't skimp on the quality here. Brushes will last longer with Oil paints than any other medium if looked after.


Turpentine is used for thinning and cleaning brushes.


I find disposable palettes where you tear off a sheet when finished the best. However you could also use porcelain plate or glass.

Oil Medium

Windor & Newton Liquin or Daler Rowney Medium No. 700. These will speed drying time of the paints and also give a slight gloss sheen. Turpentine can be used with some of the same effect.


Always use "Artist's" oils. These are the top quality in any range with better pigmentation and permanence. Worth the few extra pence. Tubes come in different sizes but oils have good covering ability and will last a long time. I have been using the same tubes since I started with oils 5 years ago. I have only had to buy more black and white.

When buying Oils there are a few points that are particular to consider.

Sometimes marked on the tube, opacity indicates how transparent the oil is. Red/Yellows are usually the least opaque.
Usually marked on a scale of 1 to 4 (often marked in stars). 4 being most permanent, (longest lasting).
Could be described as the Shade of the colour. Can sometimes relate to Opacity.

Range of Paints

One of the advantages of Oils is the limited number of colours that you need to start. Following is a good basic selection. It is usually possible to buy this or a close approximation of this range in an Oil Paint Beginners Set which often have smaller tubes for good value.

Basic Palette

Extended Palette

You will notice that there are no greens in the basic selection. Another advantage of Oils is the extent to which they can be mixed. With two blues and two yellows you can mix a wide range of greens. You can of course buy Green oils for simplicity. It can be useful to have 1 or 2 as bases or to save you time. I use Emerald Green and Phtalocyanine (Phtalo) Green for these purposes. Also more than other paints you can produce Shades by adding black and Tints by adding white to the base colours.

Get the feel of the paint

On your palette paint 3 lines of paint, black, burnt umber and raw sienna ( or yellow ochre ) near to each other. Using a clean dry brush gradually blend the raw sienna into the burnt umber until you have a even mix with no discernible join. Clean and dry the brush and repeat for the burnt umber into black. This exercise will show you how oils stay "wet" and also the "feel" of the paint.

Try this for different colour ranges, blue to white, red to purple etc.

I would also suggest mixing some colours at this point to see the shades achievable, especially green.

Once you have a good selection of colours mixed and laid out you can try for the whole rainbow effect. The more time you spend at this stage getting to know the medium the easier it will be when it comes to painting a model.

Drying time

This is the greatest obstacle to overcome when starting to use oils. It can be anywhere from 12 hours to 6/7 days to dry. I find W & N Flake white dries in about 12 hours if Liquin is added while the Alizarin Crimson is the slowest. On a recent model with Matt Medium and turpentine added it took 8 days. NO advice here except patience but if you're already a model builder you've had to learn this. Now you just need an exponential degree of it.


Oil paints normally have the consistency of soft butter. You can use the Liquin or turpentine to reduce this if you wish.


One of the biggest problems that I've seen with oils is overloading the brush. Because of it's aforementioned consistency it's easy to put too much on the model and you end up shoving a lump of paint around the model. So you have to learn to judge the amount you need more than with other paints.

Overall it's these "difficulties" with oils that are actually it's strengths. You can blend oils better than any other medium regardless of what you mix or retard them with. You can achieve more subtle colours with a wider range and a greater richness.

The Colour Wheel

For the 90% of people who read this that are male; we need to be taught this. Women have a basic genetic understanding of these principles. Watch your girlfriend/wife when she goes shopping or when she tells you which tie to wear with which shirt and pants. (grin)

Below is a very basic colour wheel for advice on colours.

Complementary Colour
Any colours which are opposite each other complement, i.e. work well together in a colour scheme. Red and green are my two favourite colours in a fantasy colour scheme. I'll let you all into a little secret. The two most visually complementary colour from a human vision standpoint are black and yellow. These are very effective colours to use to grab someone's attention. But remember you heard it from me. I hope this doesn't mean a whole slew of red/green, black/yellow models in the gallery soon. Apart from my own of course if I ever get around to it.
Colours which are beside each other on the wheel and shouldn't be used closely together as they "clash".
More extensive colour wheels can be bought in art supply shops which expand this principle and will also show colour mixing charts but generally once you understand the basic wheel you shouldn't need anything else.

Shading and Highlighting

Below is a basic chart which I use mainly for 28mm mins where shading and highlighting must be more pronounced.
Basic ColourHighlightingMid-ShadowDarkShadow
ScarletOrangeChestnut BrownDark Brown
OrangePale OrangeChestnut BrownDark Brown
YellowCreamOrangeChestnut Brown
GreenLight GreenGreen & Dark BlueMid-green & Black
BluePale BlueMid-BlueBlack or Navy
Violet (Purple)LavenderMid-PurpleDark Purple
BuffCreamDark EarthDark Brown
TanPeachChestnut BrownDark Brown
BlackLight GreyDark GreyBlack
WhiteWhitePale GreyDark Grey
Flesh (White and Red and Yellow)Pale FleshDark FleshChestnut Brown


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