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Painting Faces

While replicating the metallic effect of armor or the designing of some elaborate decoration is important, the successful painting of the face will always be the strongest point of the figure.

It can be said that all of the character, personality, or to put it more graphically, all of the “life” that we can impart into the figure, will come from the expression of humanity that we can achieve when painting the face. Without a doubt, this is the reason that the first thing we notice on a piece is the face.

Before we continue, we’d like to point out that this article is intended for the beginner who has not painted before or who has only painted a few figures. Therefore, we have decided to work with colors directly from the bottle or that can be achieved with very little mixing. The practical examples in this article have also been executed in such a way as can be achieved using a minimum of shadows and highlights, with the desire being more to explain the process than to achieve a completely finished figure. For now, what we want to impart is the technique. There will be time later to perfect it. The figure in the article is from the extensive catalog of El Viejo Dragon and represents an Irish soldier in the Spanish army of the 18th century. It turns out to be simple and easy to paint, while maintaining excellent quality.


After applying a white base for the eyeball, we will paint the iris with small points of color.


Later, we will imitate the eyelash outline in black along the upper arch of the eye.


Then, we'll cover the overlap with the base fleshtone.

We begin with the painting of the eyes. We will cover each eyeball with base white, diluted in such a way that it will cover the surface without covering the smooth edges that define its form. Later, we will apply two small points of color on the white eyeball to represent the iris, ensuring that both are the same size (not too large, or course) and that they remain well centered. Finally, we will imitate the eyelash by outlining in black the upper arch of the eye. In the beginning, the painter may not be used to controlling the brush, so we recommend that you start out by practicing on a scrap figure or piece of paper to achieve control of the brush, before attempting to paint the eyelash.

The next step is the painting of the flesh. For the moment, and so as not to get too complicated, we will try to avoid mixing, using colors directly from the bottle as a base. In this case we have opted for the Medium Flesh 860. So as not to obscure any detail, and to ensure that the paint flows freely and that we get proper coverage, we will apply this color in thinned layers. At the same time, we will define the shape of the eyes, "trimming" with the flesh color any excesses areas of white or black. Once the first layer is done, we will begin with the progressive highlighting. As its name indicates, this process basically consists of "increasing the light" of the color base, adding one or various transparent (thinned) tones, in successive applications. Here we use color Sunny Skintone 845, and have highlighted four areas. It is preferable that the new painter begins by carrying out highlights and as he gains more experience and better control of the paint and brush, move onto adding more highlights and shadows.

Logically, after painting the highlights, we start the shading with a somewhat dark brown/reddish tone, in this instance Flat Brown 984, which we will dilute and apply gradually until we achieve the desired effect.


1. The first highlight should be very extensive, covering most of the figure.
2. With the intermediate highlights, we concentrate on defining the area little by little.

3. The final highlights, very concentrated, will help us to highlight all the edges.

4. With the shading, we will give depth and contrast to the areas carefully.


5. The tongue was painted using Old Rose 944, and the teeth, Ivory 918.
6. The lips are a mixture of Amarantha Red 829 and Magenta 945, clarified with transparent Flesh.

7. The effect of the shadow of the beard was done with a very diluted amount of German Uniform Grey 995.

8. The hair was painted with a mixture of Flat Brown (or you can use Ochre Brown).


9. On this palette, we can see the colors and the tonal gradation for the fleshtones.

For the lips, we recommend you use a simple red based on a mixture of Amarantha Red 829 and Magenta 945, although you can use a combination of Red 947, Orange 956, Old Rose 944 and Flat Brown 984, being careful that the tone is not excessively dark or gaudy. Then we will highlight it with a very transparent shade of Flesh or Rose and we will apply a touch of light only on the bottom lip. A figure could be sculpted with an open mouth, and the tongue as well as the teeth could be visible. In that case, we can resort to Old Rose 944 for the tongue and Ivory 918 for the teeth.

A small and very effective trick that gives great personality to certain figures, is that of imitating the shadow of the beard. This we will do by mixing the base color with a little White 951 and Black 950, or by applying directly a very diluted mix of grey-green or grey-blue.

Finally we will paint the hair. Here we will be able to choose among various colors according to our preferences or needs. For this example we decided to use a brown tone, since it is among the most common. The base color is a mixture of Flat Brown 984 and Flat Earth 983, lightened with Brown Ochre 856 and shaded with Black 950.

Colors and Mixes

Flesh (used on the figure in the above):
BASE: Medium Flesh 860
HIGHLIGHTS: BASE + Sunny Skintone 845
SHADOWS: Flat Brown 984

Flesh (optional version):
BASE: Flat Earth 873
HIGHLIGHTS: BASE + Flat Flesh 955
SHADOWS: Hull Red 985

All of the above referenced colors are from the Vallejo Model Color range.

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