Saturday, 10 February 2007

"Oil Wiping" horses using acrylics

One technique to paint horses, described among others in Kevin Dallimore's [Foundry book](, is the 'oil wiping' technique. It involves using dark oil paint (hence the _oil_ part) that is painted all over the horse and then wiped off (and there's the _wipe_ part) of most of the horse again, leaving the oil paint only in the recesses of the model. This creates an instant realistic shading which is hard to reproduce with more standard techniques.

The two properties of oil paint that are exploited by this technique are its long drying time (if you tried this with acrylics, they probably will have dried on the model before you wiped them off) and the fact that in thin enough layers it is translucent, so you get a sort of blended effect.

The disadvantages of the technique are those of oil paint: messier to clean up (and you shouldn't really chuck turps or white spirit down the drain, so there's that problem as well) and it takes a long time to dry. And not everyone has a ready stash of oil paints lying around (they tend to be expensive, too).

So, thought I, [Vallejo]( to the rescue! In addition to the colors themselves, the Model Colour series also includes a few other items, two of which I've used to recreate the oil wipe technique using acrylics. The products I've used for this are matt medium (540) and drying retarder (597). The matt medium is basically the liquid that carries the pigment in the paints themselves (the paints are, reduced to their essence, a mixture of medium, binder and pigment), and the retarder is a chemical (some glycerine derivative, but I could be wrong there) that extends the drying time of the paint.

These two agents combined and added to normal paint result in the same properties as the oil paint (more or less): longer drying time (the retarder) and slight translucency (more like less covering power really, the medium). As we say in Dutch, tadaa!

To put my pixels where my mouth is, here's a picture of a horse shaded using this technique. The horse base colour is Flat Brown (984), which was shaded with a 1:1:1 mixture of Dark Brown (822) : retarder : medium. The shade coat was painted all over the horse (literally) and then wiped of with a peacepiece of tissue. This is the result:

"Oil wiped" horse painting technique with acrylics

Some of the basecoat has been wiped off where bits of metal protrude from the model (bad cleaning of the model), so I'll give this a quick drybrush with Flat Brown again to touch up. Otherwise, not a bad result, I'd say.


  1. Bart, very nice result, i would say. I will give it a try. Do you maybe have a picture of a horse painted with oils to compare against? Alan

  2. Bart
    Indeed -very nice. I never really got on with oils because of the very long drying time and the difficulties of getting the Liquin mix right to speed up the drying time. Mind you I was trying to do it with the old minifigs horses from 1968, and I belive it worked much better on Hinchcliffe stuf or later, Peter Guilder's ranges.
    I think it is time to re-visit the technique as I suspect it may mork better with the Front Rank horses that I am currently working on.
    As you know I currently paint all of my horses using Pelican Plaka and Gouache. The shading is applied while the base coat is still quite wet so that a blend/bleed effect is achieved. It is more of a water colour technique than an oil one. One has to paint all the horses of the same colour at once, and in one sitting. With the new varnishes that are currently on the market it is also necessary to seal the horse before proceeding or the paint can simply slough off at the final varnishing stage. Hence the need to revisit the oil method