Friday Quick Tip: Beginners Oil Paint Weathering

For some time now, I've known about using oil paints for use on scale models. It's one of the many tools in the military modelers repetoire that are used quite frequently and quite commonly. So what's so great about it? What can this do that I can't do with a wash? I decided to sit down and find out a couple of weeks back and was extremely surprised, and happy, with the results.

As you can see above, you need a few things that you likely don't have already. Of course, you'll need to pick out some oil paint colors that will work for what you're working on. I decided to pick up a few standard military modeling colors, a dark brown, a yellow and a white. The only one you'll see me using in today's tip will be burnt umber. You'll also want to have a brush that will be dedicated to painting in oils. Finally you'll need some sort of thinner medium. In this case, I've gone with Odorless Mineral Spirit

Other materials you'll find useful will be a dropper, a plastic palette such as the one featured here in our cleaning tip, and a can of spray varnish. In this tip, I've used GW's Purity Seal to seal everything.

I've gone with a great resin base from IronHalo.net I picked up from BoLSCon last month as my test piece. It's got a lot of nooks and crannies to really test out the effects of the oils, as well as a few nice flat areas. As always, your basecoat color is really up to you and your style. I've gone with Chaos Black GW spray because it will be an overall darker piece. If you're having issues picking an appropriate base color to work from, check out this Ask the Corps article for some tips.

Ok, so I know I am skipping an entire step that we've talked about before, but for the purposes of this tip, I think we'll be alright! Here I've painted the entire surface Boltgun Metal. I used two thinner coats as to not obscure the details we are trying to pick out with the oils.

Now the fun starts. Here I've taken the top off the burnt umber and am pulling paint directly from the tube. I then dabbed the brush on randomly along spots and areas I wanted weathered. Don't be too worried about getting things exact, unlike acrylics or even washes, you have all the time in the world to get the paint just where you want it. Once you've gotten things roughly where you want them, it's time to break out the thinner medium.

This is where the eye dropper came in handy. Take a few drops of your thinner medium and drop it into one of the wells on your plastic palette. Then take your brush and swirl it about in the medium, this will dilute what is on the brush, and give you a nice wash of color to work with as you spread your color around.

With your brush charged with thinner, it's time to thin out the oils on the model. Wipe the oil streaks and spots you were put on the piece earlier with your brush. The color will start to pool and go translucent. Use this to work it into the crevices and details. You'll notice you have complete control over how much and where the color goes. If the gradient on a flat surface isn't to your liking, wipe it away and try again.

Oils are going to take practice, but it's practice well worth your time, as you have 100% control over your finished product. Compare this with normal washes where many times you are victim to the whims of gravity and viscosity of the wash. Continue to work your oils until you are satisfied with the effect. Once you are finished, let the piece dry.

Oils take some time to dry, so be a bit more patient with them. I believe I waited a day before messing with this piece. No reason to ruin the work I put into it by getting overzealous! When I came back to it, and it was dry, I hit the entire piece with a spray of Purity Seal to lock in all the hard work! Oil paints require this step and they never truly dry as an acrylic does.

So why bother? Control. Just in this small test of the technique, I've found I had far more control with the color than I would have ever imagined. The long dry time gives you a near infinite ability to get things just how you want them. It just takes a bit of thinner medium and you're working again! The long dry time is also one of the drawbacks though. Don't expect to do any work on a piece back to back with oils. It's just not happening. But a bit of additional time to contemplate what's going on next is usually a good thing, especially on display pieces!

This is my first experiment with oil paints on models and I can see myself using them on many different projects in the future. As I learn more about them, I'll be sure to pass that knowledge on to everyone here as well!

If you have experience with oils, we'd love to hear some beginners tips.


  1. I'm new to the hobby, so this was a new one on me.

    Fascinating tutorial! I will investigate oils further for nurgley weathering. Thank you!

  2. Nice article and very good tips. One thing you might want to add with regards to oils is varnishing the model before using them. Quite often mineral turpentine or white spirit doesn't always react well if applied directly over acrylic paint. A few thin coats of satin or gloss varnish can give you a double benefit; it not only protects your work underneath, but also give a great surface over which to pull the pigment about.
    Same holds true if you are using weathering pigments or pastels and mineral turps to 'fix' them.
    Great article though, like you say they are another great tool to have in your repetoire. Thanks.

  3. Not to be TFG, but I really don't see much of a difference between the effect you achieved and using a simple wash of Gyphonne Sepia or Devlan Mud.

    Washes (like any medium) do take some practice and control to use properly, so the beginner's method of slopping it on will produce limited results: it's not the tools, but the craftsman, so to speak.

    Maybe I'm missing something, I dunno.

  4. Mr.Esty, I really hope you check them out. I think they're a great addition to anyone's tool box.

    Carl, Great additional thought. I'll edit the original post with this little bit of info tomorrow. I had some reservations about that originally as well, and I just happen to have some Krylon Crystal Clear from making decals!

    Jonathan, I wouldn't take my mediocre attempt at showing a bit of what they can do as the end all be all of what oil paints can do for the wargame painter. There is a degree of control that even successive light glazing of washes can even be hard to achieve. It's not evident in this very basic, rough first go, but I could feel it as I muddled my way through the process. You can easily get similar results, yes, but I've never felt more 'in control' of what my model ended up looking like, than I did with this simple test.

    If you have access to them, try it out and see for yourself. Test pieces are going to be the decider for many people. If it's for you, then great! If not, then at least you gave a new method a try before saying it wasn't your cup of tea!

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  6. I've found oils to work pretty well for doing light effects as well. You get a lot of control, workability and translucency out of them. They can be built up with more concentrated paint in the area closer to the source.

    It's great for subtle effects on display pieces, or if you are planning to go for a best painted/overall. If you want to do some quick work then washes and inks still work better, for both lighting and weathering

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  8. I think this was a great idea for an article, but that you picked the wrong model to demonstrate it on. Oil washes, in my limited experience, are about subtlety, control and viscosity, and none of those features were on display here. I think a follow-up might help to convince some doubters.