Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Up to the line

Posted by Martin on April 9, 2009

Front view

Front view

Rear view

Rear view

Here’s an update on the study for Saxon paint schemes. Moving on from the head, I’ve been trying some greys and whites on the trousers and been applying the yellows for the piping on the surtout. There’s still some work to do on the rear of the trousers but I mostly wanted to talk about piping tonight.

Talking to others recently, I’ve come to realise that some people are scared of painting piping for one reason or another and I thought that if I shared my approach, it might do a little good. So my first piece of advice is to have a go (yep – and that means you, young Simon). If the figure sculptor has gone to the trouble to put it on a figure, it’s almost rude not to try to paint it! It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t come out well to start with – with practice and patience, you’ll only improve. So here are my top tips:

Don’t paint piping last, paint it first. If you leave it until the last thing, you’ll be worrying about doing neat lines that don’t spoil work you’ve already done. It’s actually much easier to paint up to a line than to paint the line itself. So, while you’re still at the black undecoat stage, paint in your piping. Don’t worry if it’s a bit wobbly or not fine enough at first – you can paint back with black to tidy up. That’s exactly what I did with the yellow turnbacks shown here.

Don’t go straight to the final colour. Most piping is in a light colour like red, yellow or white. To get that opaque enough on black in one layer will mean you have to use thick paint which is very difficult to work with and leaves an unsightly finish. If, on the other hand, you thin your paint to make it workable, it won’t be opaque enough in a single layer. So you know where I’m going here: take a layered approach like you would with any other part of the figure. The Flat Earth and Ochre Brown I used here provide both a good base for the yellows and provide the opportunity for a bit of shading to make the piping more interesting.

You’ll still need a steady hand. So, position yourself so that you can rest your painting hand against something solid like the edge of the table. Also, don’t hold your breath while you apply the paint – instead, breath out gently as you make each stroke. Try to paint is smooth steady strokes rather than jerky jabs.

Be careful what you drink. I never drink tea, coffee or cola before and during painting because the caffeine actually makes my hands shake slightly.

If you’ve got some piping tips of your own, feel free to post them as comments here. In the meantime, I expect I’ll move on to the light blue of the surtout next.


11 Responses to “Up to the line”

  1. Alan said

    Another technique I have found useful for light piping on a dark background is to paint the first layer in white rather than the final colour. This gives a quick and effective solution to the lack of coverage problem. I also use this method for painting turnbacks, collars and cuffs. It makes them really stand out. One can still use shading on these areas and they now have more impact.

  2. Sparker said


    Interesting tips, thanks. I’m not normally one for high and low lights and all that jazz. One of the attractions of Calpe figures for me personally is that a pretty basic paint job turns them into outstanding figures with real prescence on the table top. But I will try doing the facings second – I always do the face and hands first because apparently humans always instinctively gauge distance, size and attitude of the human form from these three points, so I think with a model this makes it very important to get these right first off. And an undercoat of white doesn’t seem too much extra graft, so I’ll make the effort there too.

    I hope not bringing out all the detail on a figure doesn’t really insult the designers – otherwise I’ve upset a lot of people in my time!

    Any word of when there might be an update to the Calpe website?

  3. de Burgo said

    Hi Martin,

    Just finished a company of von Rechten Grenadiers. These are Elites from the 1809 period. Happy to send a copy through for your thoughts. Personally I think your yellow is closer to the mark than mine.

    • Alan said

      Hi De Burgo

      (Or anyone else?), I am looking for decent 28mm 1809 Saxon figures what make do you use and how about putting pictures in for a “guest contribution” (if that’s alright with you Martin)?

  4. Randy said

    Nicely done, Martin.

    I am in the same camp as yourself, if the sculpter adds detail I feel obliged to paint it. There are exceptions though. For instance, on a regimental basis and apparently at the whim of the CO, the French stopped piping pockets. When I start a new regiment, if the issue is in doubt, I consult with the CO to find out whether his unit pipes pockets. In this case the CO is represented by a dice with a 50-50 chance.

    My own method for piping a turnback is to paint it in white, leaving the vertical separation between the turnback and the coat in dark shading. Then I come back and hit the edge of the turnback with the piping color, shaded subtly to match the undulations of the turnback. My rationale is the same as Alans, painting the entire turnback white improves the coverage and reduces the number of coats required for the piping.

    De Burgo, I for one would love to see your grens.

  5. Pete B said

    Nice work Martin.

    It’s interesting reading how other people paint piping on their figures. I also feel obliged to paint any details that the sculpter adds to a figure and always paint the piping on my French infantry. I usually paint a medium grey over all the areas that are going to be white including the white piping on the cuffs and collar and then paint all the red piping and the cuffs and collar in a dark red colour. I then highlight all the red piping, then all the white areas including the white piping, then highlight the red cuffs and collar. This allows me to tidy up any mistakes as I go along and means that I only need a single coat of dark red to cover the medium grey.

    I tried the yellow combination yesterday on some 813AD Saxons (I’m using these these to practice colour combinations for my Napoleonics) and it turned out very nice so thanks for this.

    The guest contributor gallery sounds like a great idea – any chance of this Martin?

  6. Martin said

    Thank you all for chipping in here. It’s always interesting to hear how people find their own varying solutions to the same challenge. A few points I’d like to follow up:

    Firstly, I didn’t mean to imply that anybody should feel guilty about not painting all details sculpted on a figure. I know it doesn’t offend the likes of the Perrys or Peter F. if you don’t – they just happened to enjoy joining in when I was teasing von Peter Jnr.

    Next 1809 Saxons in 28mm. That’s a bit of a toughie Alan. I think the Elite range is actually intended for 1806 and, as you probably know, the Calpe range is for 1813. The Assualt Group is supposed to be doing an 1809 range to complement their newish Austrians but progress there seems very slow. You might try contacting Bircorne Miniatures and asking them about the Connoisseur range.

    Lastly, the guest gallery idea. I’m not sure about a gallery per se but Alan did a guest review posting of some Perry figures a while ago with some pictures. So I’ll PM De Burgo about doing something similar.

    • Randy said

      I forgot to mention this earlier, Martin. I found a way around forgoing coffee in order to do an accurate brush stroke. I hold a figure by its temp base between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. After picking up paint on my brush I rest my right hand against the base of my left thumb and psint away. The net effect is they tend to shake in the same direction ergo I don’t have to give up my coffee. It really does work!!

  7. Phil said

    I wonder whether I’m the only one who can’t see your embedded pictures? I’m using Firefox on a Mac FWIW.

  8. Hi Phil

    I’m on a Mac too but can see all the pictures just fine. Of course I’m using Safari and not Firefox.

    I know that Roly had trouble seeing some pictures on my von Peter’s site using Firefox, but could see them using IE.

    von Peter himself … from York

  9. Phil said

    It’s workin’ fine today….

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