How To: Painting Scales
By Mike "Ogre" Raper
Conceptually, painting scales isn’t all that different from any other kind of layering; in fact, it’s very similar to jewelling. Basically, you’re just building up a range of one color—green, for example—from dark to light, but in a pattern. There are several ways of doing it, but I personally consider the following to be the best balance between detail and expedience. There are lots of patterns you can use; round, irregular, “shield” shaped, diamonds, etc. It’s a matter of taste. For our example, we’re going to go with green shield-shaped scales. I’ve put a simple image in with each step to make it a bit easier to follow along.
Bear in mind a couple of basic rules about scales. One is that while scales are a striking addition to a mini, the process of painting them is a subtle one; don’t overdo it. Subtle blends will look a LOT better on your finished product, believe me. Secondly, you want to keep the scales going the same way. By that, I mean paint the pattern in the same direction, with the scales’ fade from dark to light colors going the same direction, too. Usually the lighter parts are towards the back of they mini, with the darker facing the front.
Step 1: Pick your colors. Generally, for scales you need four hues of the same color, plus (maybe) some white. These colors will be a dark version of your base, a medium or base color, a light version, and a bright one. For green, you’d use forest green for a dark color, medium green for the base, Kelly green for the light, and lime or citron for the bright. Here are some swatches, so you get the idea:
Step 2: Lay your base color. Pick the area you want scaled, and paint it your medium color. Let it dry.
Step 3: Outline the scales. Using your dark color and a fine brush (10-0, or thereabouts), start painting your scale pattern on. Don’t be too concerned if you make a line too thick or something; it’s just paint and you’ll go over it again anyway.
Step 4: Now, start filling in the scales. You’re already 1/3 of the way there; using the medium as your base gives you the darkest part of the scales as it is. So, leaving the top third of the scales the color they are, fill in the bottom two thirds with your light green. Before you do, thin it a bit; say, about 1/3 thinner, 2/3 paint. This lets it flow a bit more naturally, and as it dries, it will have a more realistic fade. Be aware that it will look brighter at first, until it dries, so don’t worry if it looks too bright when you first put it on. If you mess up and paint over one of your lines, no problem…just repaint it.
Step 5: Just like with the last step, you’re going to keep filling in the scales. This time, though, you do the bottom third of each scale with your bright color. Again, thin it with 1/3 thinner and 2/3 paint for a more natural transition. Also, as before, it will look a bit brighter than you might want at first, but will dry with a more natural look.
Step 6: You can add a tiny line of white along the bottom edge of your scales. This represents light reflecting off the edge of the scale, and is really optional. For larger scales, particularly the more irregular shaped ones, it can be quite striking. For very small scales, it might be unnecessary, and frankly very hard to do without overwhelming your original colors. Experiment, and try it out.
Here’s a finished mini done using this very process, with these basic colors. The scales themselves were painted in less than an hour, including drying time. Note how the scales on the legs and body follow the same basic pattern, with the lighter edges toward the rear of the mini.