Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Using Oil Washes

Hey guys!

One of the more recent trends in our wargame hobby is using oil paints to wash and weather our models. This technique has been around for much longer in the scale modelling community, but Les from Awesomepaintjob really has made many people try their hands at this technique.

You'll need:

  • Oil Paint (Black or Dark Brown is preferred for most uses)
  • Thinner (White Spirits, which you can get in Germany under the name "Waschbenzin")
  • Something to mix the wash in
  • Synthetic Brushes (White Spirit is very harsh to the bristles and you don't want to kill your good brushes for this)
  • Make-Up Applicator or cotton buds (For clean up)
  • Gloss or Satin Varnish

SAFETY TIP: Open a window when using White Spirits as thinner. This stuff is really nasty and will give you a monstrous headache (or worse) when you use it in an enclosed space. Also, be very careful of open flames, as the stuff is highly inflammable.

Stage 1: Prep your mini

You'll need to varnish your model, as the White Spirits we use to thin the oil paint with can damage your paintjob. Also, the surface needs to be very smooth, so the wash can be pulled into all the nooks and crannies by the capillary action.

You have two options here. Gloss Varnish makes for the smoothest surface and the best flow of the wash, while Satin Varnish is less smooth and makes the wash more controllable. What you choose ultimately depends on what you want to achieve with the wash. For a general wash of the whole figure Gloss Varnish may be better, as the chance of staining larger surfaces is smaller. If you just want to wash portions of the mini, Satin Varnish might be the way to go, as you can apply the wash with more control.

Stage 2: Mixing the wash

Take a small container (I've found plastic shot glasses to be very useful here) and your brush. Use the brush to take a small dollop of oil paint and put in into the container. Add some thinner and stir, till the mixture has a uniform color. You'll get the right ratio with experience. If you've used a wash before, you have a general idea how it's supposed to look. A rule of thumb is, that thinner is better than thicker, as you can apply more than one thin wash for more control and better effect than one thick wash.

Ingredients for the oil wash

Stage 3: Applying the wash

Just take your brush and apply the wash to your model. Because of the smooth surface and capillary action, the wash will flow effortlessly into all the crevice, without pooling on large areas. If it pools in the recesses wipe off your brush and use it to soak up the excess. Apply several thin washes until you are satisfied - the drying times should be minimal, as the White Spirit evaporates quickly.

Wash is too thick and applied in only one thick coat

Thinner wash and several coats - much better :-)

Stage 4: Clean up

Oil washes give you superior control in comparison to acrylic washes, as they can be cleaned up and manipulated after they dried. Just take some White Spirit, apply it to a make up applicator, brush or cotton bud and just scrub the surface of the model you want to clean. The oil wash will be removed from the open surfaces, but remains in the crevices, giving the mini a much more crisp feel to it.

Much better after clean up, but I could have been more thorough

And that's all there's to it. After experimenting a bit, I found oil washes to be an excellent tool in my hobby arsenal. The prep work is considerably more than with acrylic washes, but you are rewarded with more control and a more subtle effect than with most acrylics.




  1. That's what is really holding me back from oils... the fumes. I work in my house in a small studio and opening the window is not always an option. My Wife is very understanding... up to a point.

    Good to see how they turned out though for you.
    Ron, FTW

  2. I'm in the process of moving in with my girlfriend - lets hope that she will be understanding too :-).

    Great fan of your blog btw Ron. FTW is one of the sites that got me started when I took up the hobby a few years ago.