Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Airbrush - Hive Guard Skin Tutorial

Back in April I completed a Trygon using an experimental (for me, anyways) airbrush technique. In the cryptically titled post, I had only alluded to the fact that I had used an airbrush for the skin. Dethtron (having an airbrush) and Hoagy (being an artist at heart) wanted to know more.

Unfortunately, they had no hope at any expediency on me fulfilling that request - It was to be a month before I got more Tyranids and almost another month before I would paint them.

However, their long period of suffering is over.


Throughout this little tutorial, I've used the Iwata HP-BH as my weapon of choice. Ever since I got this in February it has totally replaced my use of my old Badger. It's got a much finer needle, it has better control, it wastes less paint and it's much, much easier to clean. To an extent, you will need an airbrush with the capability to do a pretty narrow spray width to do what I'm doing.

Lets get into it. Since this was the 2nd time I've used this technique, my methods have improved over what I used on the Trygon and I'll mention improvements as necessary. Comments for each step are underneath the picture. Going to forgo the Picassa web albums as they don't lend themselves to very much detail in the comments. I'm also gonna take a second to whinge a bit about my lack of skill with lighting in my macro photography.

As always, click on the photos for the bigger, more detailed versions.

This is actually a combination of steps one, two and three. Step one being prime the model white (Duplicolor white in this case). Step 2 is to hit the skin with the base coat via airbrush and, step 3, preshade the nooks and crannies with the shadow color.

A couple of quick notes -

I wasn't very fastidious/careful with the shading. I was basically just roughly lining all the spots I wanted to be in shadow. Since I'm preshading, the next step will hide most of my 'mistakes' anyway.

My base color is a mixture of P3 Frost Bite, Exile Blue and Khador Red Base. Its mostly Frostbite. The shade is the same 3 colors but a lot heavier on the dark blue and red. This gets me back to my post about pre-mixing custom colors. I made a batch of the base and the shade color before I got started. One thing I learned from the Trygon is that matching a custom color across two parts of a model worked on at different times is very hard and time consuming. Adding an airbrush to that challenge makes it damn near impossible.

As you can see, I have now oversprayed all of the skin with white. In this case I used the Tamiya Flat White (XF-2). Previously I had used the Vallejo Model Air white but found it to be too thick and tending to clog the airbrush unless you thinned it with water. Unfortunately, the Model Air paints won't thin nearly as far as the Tamiya. So Tamiya wins two points - one for ease of use and another for availability.

I was aiming for very thin coats of the white to build up gradients with multiple coats focusing the whitest ares to the raised portions of the exoskeleton. You can't really tell at this point, but much of the purple-gray shading is still slightly visible and the whole model still has a slightly blue hue from the base coat peeking out from underneath the very thin white layers.

I've now gone back over the preshading in many areas (but not all) with the same purple-gray shading color. I did this for two reasons - to punch up the divisions between the shell and the skin as well as deepen the shadows in areas that I hit with too much white paint. At this point I am much more careful with the purple and I'm actually starting to do some blending. However, I still didn't have to be prefect since there was still another stage with another chance to fix mistakes.

Hopefully this is apparent in the photo... A this point the skin is pretty much done. I've broken out some white paint, thinned it down and then layered it on by brush on the raised areas and muscle ridges in order to provide highlights and correct the rest of my shading messes. As the Tamiya white was sprayed on in such a way to provide gradients, this step finishes off that process. I chose to do the final highlights in this way for better control as I'm no where near an expert with the airbrush. I also like the effect a bit more.

As with many things in painting, the key to this step is multiple thin coats that have plenty of time to dry between applications. Keep a hairdryer handy.

Now we start adding in the heebie-jeebies. I've mixed up a wash of VMc Old Rose, P3 Khador Red and Sanguine Base (I think) and then blended it around the areas that I think would be best served be being a pit pink. I'll mix more red into the mix and re-apply for deeper recesses (like the vents on the limbs). Nothing to special here, though a bit of blending can be involved.

Here, I paint the ribs in the arm vents (Frostbite mixed with white) and then tighten up the white with some more brush painting to fix boarders and details. At this point the skin is now done and then its on to the shell and claws- which I wont get into since they are in no way fancy.

It may look like a lot of steps, but its a pretty painless and quick way to get some interesting effects on harder to paint (well) organic shapes of the Tyranids.

I've actually got this guard finished and once I figure out when I'm gonna paint this guys bro, I may post some finished shots.


  1. Good pointers laubs, I'd probably drop a step or so because I would be happy just getting something painted with more than primer on the table sometime. :D

    I'm working on the Blood angel subchapter in my spare time, and i'm definitely using the airbrush for as much as possible.

    Single action, but learning how to thin the paint well enough has let me get the line quite fine for detail/spot work.

  2. Good stuff Lauby {^}

    Would you recommend an airbrush for painting little stuff too, or just bigger ones?

  3. I haven't had to much experience doing anything more complicated than a base coat with an airbrush on things like trooper models and such.

    However the principle is the same and there are a lot of people out there who do this sort of thing. Les Bursely comes to mind. If I ever get to the termagants stage of a Tyranid army then this is the method I'll use.

    So yeah, I would recommend it.

  4. I'll be painting all my Tyranids by hand...only 100ish models to do in 6 weeks! Oh my. Your HG looks nice, I still need to work out what I'm going to do special with my larger models as I'm attempting just to speed paint the gants lol.

    Looking forward to completed model.

  5. This looks great mate, and a very heloful tutorial. I think I am just going to ask the birthday pixie for a new airbrush and start experimenting, and this article has certainly given me inspiration.

    Cheers me ol china!