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Custom Tutorial: Painting a Head

IMG_1976 (1024x501)Factory paint jobs can run the gamut from serviceable to horrible. We’ve all bought figures who have eyes that look as though they were painted by blind men holding a paintbrush between their teeth. We’ve bought figures with hair bleeding onto the skin, with eyelashes painted onto foreheads, or with lips that have a nice little “hooker smear” affect to them. That’s not to say that every toy has horrible paint, and I certainly don’t have the fortitude to toss off as many paint jobs as the factory workers achieve, but occasionally we want to have toys that are a little better looking.

Through trial-and-error, I’ve ended up with a decent, dependable routine for getting a head to look decent with a fairly simple paint job.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to give a simple white cast of the SDCC Moonstone a generic brown-haired paint job. Here’s what the original head looks like:IMG_1956 (640x480)

And here’s the cast:IMG_1957 (640x480)

Here’s a picture of the paints I’ll be using. Of course I had forgotten a couple of paints when I took this picture, so this isn’t all of them. In total, I used thirteen paints to turn the white cast into something resembling a female-type person.IMG_1958 (640x480)

I used to be a pretty ardent Citadel user, but I’ve gradually migrated to using Vallejo. This is for a number of reasons, mainly ease, price, and quality. Citadel paints started being very inconsistent. Some were too thick, some were gunky, some dried out way too quickly. In addition, I just like being able to squeeze out some paint instead of digging into the Citadel pots and corrupting the paint with what’s on my brush, due to the fact that I’m impatient and lazy. So right now I’m almost fully Vallejo with a few Citadel stragglers.

Paints used for this project:

Vallejo Model colors

Yellow Ochre
Sky Blue

Vallejo Game Colors

Charred Brown
Pale Flesh
Rosy Flesh
Parasite Brown
Heavy Skintone
Cadmium Skin
Electric Blue


Pink Horror

With any head, either a cast or a factory head, it’s a good idea to wash it off with some rubbing alcohol and let it dry thoroughly before you start to paint. That will get any mold releases, factory gunk, hand oils or whatever off and give you a clean surface that allows the paint to grip better.IMG_1959 (640x530)

First step for me is to give the head a first coat of Vallejo Game Tan. It’s a deep, dark color that will cover all the skin tones of a factory head, or will provide a good base if you’re using a cast of whatever color.IMG_1960 (640x626)

I do one of two things at this stage. If the head is a male head, I usually will let the Tan dry before proceeding to the next step. Usually I will go heavy into drybrushing at the next stage, which will allow the darker base coat to stand out amidst the lighter drybrushed coats I’ll end up putting on. However, I go a different route with female heads, which is the method I’ll be showing this time.IMG_1961 (640x480)IMG_1964 (640x480)

With a decent glob of Cadmium Skin, Pale Flesh, Heavy Skintone, and Rosy Flesh squirted out onto your makeshift palette, you want to dip your brush in a little bit of water, wipe it off, and while the Tan layer is still wet on the face, start working the other colors in. This is the least scientific method ever, so essentially you’re going to be eyeballing the paint to get to the tone you want. I go from dark to light, so I’ll get the Heavy Skintone and start mixing that — very very light amounts, just the tip of the brush — into the Tan base. This wet-brush effect will keep the Tan moist while facilitating the paints ability to mix together right on the head.IMG_1966 (640x480)IMG_1967 (640x480)

From there I’ll do the same thing with the Cadmium, then Rosy, then Pale, and then back to grab a little Tan to pull them together. At this point you should be getting a decent skin tone on the head, if you keep the brush moving and continue mixing them together. Remember that usually paint dries a little darker than it looks when wet, so try to go a little lighter with the color than your ideal.IMG_1969 (640x567)

Once you’ve got it mixed and where you want it to be . . . stop painting. Let it dry, or you’ll end up lifting up the paint with too much brushing and you’ll get gunky little balls of paint that make your head look like she has a horrible disease. The paint will self-level as it dries.IMG_1970 (640x563)

Usually once I’m done with the preliminary head painting I let it dry for a while. But since I’m doing a tutorial and pressed for time, I’ll skip right ahead to the initial coat of paint for the hair. As there will be drybrushing going on with the face I’m not going to worry about doing the hair around the face until later. For now I’m just painting the bulk of the hair a single color.IMG_1971 (640x480)

As I’m going for a brown-haired woman, I want to go to the darkest brown I have, which is Vallejo Charred Brown. You could go for black here if you wanted really deep tones or a much more vivid contrast, but you’ll see the Charred Brown provides enough contrast that you don’t need to go that dark with it.

The Charred Brown is a thick enough paint that it only takes one coat and she’s covered. Again, I’ve left the area around the face unpainted, and will take care of that later.IMG_1975 (640x507)

I’d set the head aside now and let it dry for at least an hour. I have a fan at my workspace (yes, the constant clapping and cheering can get annoying), so after a half hour she was ready for more painting. The next stage requires a lot of drybrushing, which can be an abrasive process, which can end up peeling off uncured paint and making paint-boogers infect your paint job. Impatience has taught me many lessons.

IMG_1976 (640x480)
You can see that the paint is a matte color and fully dried. Now we’re going to take the same skin tone from before — Cadmium Skin, Rosy Flesh, Pale Flesh, and Heavy Skintone — but this time we’re going to go a bit lighter with the paint. A little heavy Skin, a little Cadmium, a little Rosy, and then wipe most of it off.IMG_1977 (640x565)

Human skin, unless you’re a human Photoshop, has a lot of subtle undertones and overtones. This procedure will give you a smooth paint job with a lot of subtle variations. If you’ve managed the amounts of paint just right, you’ll get an extremely subtle blend of skintones on your head — almost too subtle for the camera to pick up. So just pretend you can see what I’m talking about. The trick is to not get it blotchy, which means keeping the brush moving very fast and keeping the color gradations very very subtle for the drybrushing.

After I was reasonably through with the face, I went in and finished up the hair around the face.IMG_1979 (640x606)

I let the hair dry a reasonable length of time. I initially laid down Charred Brown, and now I wanted a brown that had enough oomph that I knew would stand out over the Charred. Parasite Brown is a brighter brown with a bit of an orange to it that I knew would stand out on the higher ends of the hair.IMG_1980 (640x480)IMG_1982 (640x480)

Again I got some paint on my brush and then wiped most of it off, so I was left with just the essence of paint. Then I gave the head a drybrushing. Already the Parasite was dusting the topmost parts of the hair and giving it definition. I went over the head with a full drybrush twice.IMG_1983 (640x543)IMG_1984 (640x635)

At this point the undercoat will infect the upper coat, causing it to lose some of it’s perkiness and take the edge off the brighter color. This is actually good, as you don’t want too much of a contrast — unless you do. I wanted a bit more pop, so I added some Yellow Ochre to my Parasite Brown and gave it a very light dusting overtop the parasite. This perked up the hair considerably.

With hair and skin done, it’s time to get into the facial details. For eyebrows I used the Charred Brown of her hair.IMG_1991 (640x614)

You can get nuts with the sclera of her eyes by using a light gray and then a white, but for simplicity’s sake I just gave her a white coat.IMG_1992 (640x518)IMG_1993 (640x596)

I ringed her eyes with black. Depending on what you’re going for, you can give her some eye shadow here or not. I opted for leaving her plain and just went with bold black eyelashes to make her eyes stand out. You can get nuts with her eyelashes or be restrained like these. I didn’t want her to have too much of a raccoon look, so I went simple.IMG_1994 (640x455)

For her iris, you want to have a half circle of some type. Unless you want your eyes very surprised, you probably will want to stay away from a full circle.IMG_1996 (640x483)

I wanted some perky blue eyes to go with the darker brown hair, so I gave her a base of Electric Blue.

IMG_1997 (640x481)Then you’ll give her pupils. These can go either right in the middle or closer to the upper lid depending on what kind of mood you’re going for. I opted for just touching the upper lid.IMG_1998 (640x516)

I used the Sky Blue to give her a bit of a lighter eye color on the left (as you’re looking at her) of each pupil. It gives them a little bit of life. I also used the Citadel Pink Horror on her lips. You can use any shade of red if you want . . . or any shade at all, really, but I like the subtlety of the Pink Horror. It’s not a “candy-colored” pink, so there’s a nice subtlety that says she put something on but doesn’t need to hit you in the face with it.

IMG_1999 (640x506)At this point all that’s left is the (optional) highlights. I put a dot of white in each eye for and added a little bit of white to the Pink Horror and gave her bottom lip a little streak of it for added oomph.

And after all of that, she’s done. At this stage you could use some gloss to add to her eyes to give them a wet look if you wanted. I didn’t as she hadn’t cured fully enough to do so, and I didn’t want to screw up her eyes.

That’s all there is to it. Most of the actual time is spent waiting for the paint to dry. If you have any questions leave a comment, I’m sure I missed something.