Monday, March 21, 2011

A quick look at wet blending

As part of a reply to an email and a follow up to the Painting Skin and Cloth post in the Back to Basics series that I did with Dave of N++ Wargaming, I decided to expand some of the thoughts I had to cover the topic of wet blending.

Wet blending can be done a bunch of different ways I'm sure. Just like everything else out there. Without any formal knowledge or training (as it relates to painting minis), this is how I decided to tackle the process and make it work in the few places I apply it to models.

The difference between wet blending and layering and glazing
I think these few techniques get confused sometimes... for me, they are completely different things.

Layering is a process where I'll start with one color and then add additional "layers" of paint over that (usually lighter in value) leaving a little bit of the previous layer showing with each pass. This is a great way to "build up" highlights and have a smooth transition between the lightest color and the darkest color.

My layering is also usually done with opaque colors. You end up thinning them out so much that they start to loose their opacity, but most of time, you're looking to make a transition from one color to another or add a highlight/shadow to a spot on your model.

Sometimes folks even confuse glazing and layering. Glazing is where I use things like inks or washes (not the best medium I know) to alter the original color. The difference for me being that I want to keep the original color, just add some subtle variety to it. For example, I have a red and I want to make it a rich red up top by adding a Gryphonne Sepia wash but use a Leviathan Purple wash down near the bottom to cool the red down a bit to reflect the portion in shadow.

I'm still working with red and I don't want to change it, just create some variety.

So how do you wet blend two colors?
Once I have the area on my model that I think warrants wet blending, I'll look at the colors I'll be using. Most of the time it's the base color and black or a very dark color for the shadow.

Depending on how opaque the base color is, I'll work one of two ways. In the example to the right, I wanted the cape to be more red than black, so I painted the entire thing red first.

If I wanted it to be more black than red in the end, I would have started with black.

It doesn't change the actual process, just where the final look of the piece falls... do you want it more dark or do you want it more like the base color?

Note: Wet blending is not the answer to everything. While it can be a complex process and involve some time, it still needs to be supported by other techiniques. If you look at the red cape up above, only the recessed area shading on the cape was done with wet blending.

The weathering along the bottom was done with washes and drybrushing. The fine edge highlights were done with careful line highlighting.

I'm going to use the banner below as an example of how I go about "blending" the two colors. Don't try and do the whole thing in one pass, make sure you keep your sections in manageable sizes. Here, I painted one side of the banner pole at a time.

Since I wanted the banner to be more green than black, I started by painting the whole thing green. Once that was good and dry, I started with the blending. Since it's on the back of the banner, I went straight to black.

I wasn't looking for anything fancy, just a deep shadow right along the banner pole.

(The far left picture)
I start by painting the area along the banner pole green again. As soon as I have a layer of wet green paint down, I go right over it along the deepest recess with black paint. Remember, you've got to work quick since the paint is drying as you're doing this.

Note: Some folks will say you have to use certain extenders or drying retarders to do this properly. I don't use any of that stuff. I just keep my areas smaller and have a plan before starting.

(The middle picture)
As soon as I have my two colors in place, I wipe any excess off my brush real quick and start blending my black into my green using long strokes running parallel to the banner pole. I only go out as far as I want my shadow to go.

The reason I start with the black in this case is because it's the color I just finished adding.

(The far right picture)
As soon as I'm done with pushing my shadow color (the black) out into my base color (the green), I rinse my brush and dry my brush (leaving it slightly damp) and then I add a tiny bit of green to it and begin working from the pure green area back into the black.

This will also push the shadow slightly back towards the banner pole or the point of origin. If it goes too far for your liking, all you need to do is switch colors back to black and make a few strokes to bring it out into the green again.

And the end result. The shadow is there along the banner pole and you can see that I've added a few more things to it overall.

Here's another example to show you that sometimes it's not just blending in one direction.

With this one, I started with a black base coat and built up to purple. I would start each fold with a thin line of purple along a the ridge of a fold and a thin line of black in the adjacent recessed areas.

Then I would blend the purple a little bit to the left and a little bit to the right down into the deep recessed areas along each side of each fold. In the case where I had to put my shadow back in, I added some black... in the case where my purple wasn't showing up enough, I repeated that portion of it. Lots of quick back and forth.

And yes, that means each fold is done like this. You can see how the time adds up fairly quickly. In the original example, I started with the red base coat so that meant I had to add my black to the recessed areas and work it outward and up towards the high points. Any time I got too much black on a high point of a fold, I corrected it with red.

You can see how doing something like this can create huge problems when it comes to adding freehand over it. It's insanely hard to correct any mistakes over a super-fine blend like this. Most of time, you'll end up starting the whole thing over if you don't throw the model in the trash before that.

But what about white?
Ah, the dreaded white. When it comes to this color, I don't use the wet blending route. I go with a layering approach. I'll start with a light grey color for my base and then add successive layers of white on the high points until I get the contrast I want. Same for the shadows, I'll add thin layers of a slightly darker grey into the recessed areas.

For me, white is just not one of those colors I wet blend. Simple as that.

And last but not least are multiple wet blends
Perhaps the hardest of all since the area you're working in is much smaller than you'd probably like it to be.

The only real trick to pulling this off is cutting back on the amount of paint you use and setting clear lines of where colors will start and stop.

The blade of his weapon is a good example of a multiple wet blend... in a very tiny area on top of that.

Wet blending has it's place. It's not the answer to a lot of things actually. Most of the time I don't use it on models. Layering is the big one I use all the time. But when you have something you want the super smooth blends on, you can't beat wet blending.


  1. Very well explained. I always had a hard time understanding the diff between wet and layer

  2. You're killin me Ron. You make it look so easy. I love your tutorials man!

  3. You mention that inks and washes isn't necessarily the right way to go for glazes. If you, or any of your readers *hint* have any good ways of making glazes please let us know. I've been thinking of trying out OSL for instance, but I don't want to paint the color of the paint but rather glaze it on to make it blend with the color of what the light shines on.

  4. Thanks guys.
    I think a lot of people confuse these things and end up trying to do one technique when they should be doing another and make it harder for themselves.

    Flekkzo: Glazes are not something I use that often. I should have been more clear... inks are what you really do need to use as they are transparent and allow the color underneath to show through where washes are not the best to use as they can build in opacity as you add them changing the color overall.

  5. Replies
    1. Anon: Thanks, you can follow my work over at From the Warp now. I've got a ton of tutorials over there now.