How I Paint 'Em


Now and then I'm asked how I paint my soldiers and about the paints and other materials I use, so I'm creating a few pages about it. There'll be little here that's news to painting veterans, but for those starting out I hope to show that it's all a lot simpler than it looks.

The techniques I use were developed about 35 years ago. In those days all I had to go on were a couple of articles in Military Modelling magazine, trial and error, a head full of dreams and far too much time on my hands.

All my figures are painted exclusively with Humbrol enamel paints and then finished off with a high-gloss, clear acrylic varnish. Other things found littering my painting desk are:
  • a jar each of mineral turps and water for cleaning the brushes between each colour application;
  • a supply of kitchen paper for wiping the excess paint and turps from the brushes being cleaned;
  • a bit of old white T-shirt material. This is for used for wiping paint off brushes in preparation for dry brushing;
  • Humbrol thinners, for occasionally adding to the Humbrol paint pots to prevent the paints from drying out and to keep each colour at the right consistency. I use a pipette for this purpose;
  • a set of fine brushes. Brush sizes are of much less importance than a set of good, sharp brush tips;
  • a plastic ice cream tub lid, which I use as a palette; and
  • a box of thin latex gloves. All that turps and whatnot will play havoc with your skin, if you're not careful, so it's essential to have something to protect your hands.
Baaaah, Humbrols!
Just a word or two about Humbrols before I go any further. The first thing to say is that using them is bit eccentric these days. Sensible people use acrylics. Not only do Humbrols require toxic, acrid-smelling and skin-stripping solvents to make them work, but every colour behaves in a different way. Each one has a different viscosity, opacity, surface tension, drying rate, adhesive quality and consistency. All I can say is that they can all be made to work once you've had a bit of experience with them (although gaining this experience can be very frustrating at times). I've stuck with them because:
  • they're cheap and easily available;
  • I don't know any better; and
  • I think their qualities far outweigh their disadvantages.
The most important quality possessed by Humbrols is that they just seem to look exactly right on vintage wargame figures. This is not very surprising when you think about it because in the ye olde Blighty of my youth nearly all the wargame figures I ever saw were painted in Humbrols.

A step-by-step account of how I painted my recast Alberken Austrian infantryman will be appearing over the next few days.


  1. It is always interesting to learn how others paint up their figures. And I am a huge fan of Humbrols, which can be used to provide a variety of effects. But then I also use oils for some of my own painting, so what do I know? Clearly, it's time for my wife to find a facility for the criminally deranged.

    Best Regards,


    1. A few weeks ago one of the leading lights of the Wellington wargames community saw my painting set up. "You're using Humbrols!," he said, "...WHY?!!!???". I knew then that I needed to find a supoort group...

      Oils would be a whole new world for me, Stokes, where I fear to tread!

  2. I am 67 and started painting HH with Humrol paints when I was about 20. Stopped painting for 20 years but for the last 9 months at it again and loving it. Being retired means I finished figures at a pace. So I now use matt acyclics but finish of with Humrol spray gloss! Why did Humrol stopping making French Artillery Green!!!! The big gripe with me is the cost of brushes that do not seem to last very long. Gt site from Ian in the UK.

    1. Hello Ian,

      I share your frustrations on every one of those counts. Crikey, nostalgia's not what it used to be, eh? I have to mix my own French artillery green now.

      I'm glad you like the site.
      Best regards

    2. I also used Humbrols back in the 70s. The smell gave me headaches, but I needed mt Minifigs knights painted, so I had little choice. These days I do use acrylics, and the lack of odor, quick drying time and clean up with soap and water make up for some of the loss of nostalgia. Your figures in Humbrols always look stunning, so keep at it, I say.

    3. I'm too old to learn new tricks, CN!