Sunday, November 8, 2009

Much Ado About Horses

...In which our protagonist obscures the fact that his output is currently rather unimpressive by producing this instructive article.

Cavalry. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are impressive. Or at least they should be.

A lot of people are intimidated by cavalry-- and I don't just mean on the battlefield. One of the comments I see again and again is how much wargamers hate painting horses. They're big, obvious, take forever, and never quite seem to look right. Believe me, I know the feeling, 'cause I'm a onetime horse-hater myself.

But painting horses doesn't have to be an awful chore, best avoided; the truth is, in smaller scales horses can be painted quickly, easily, and can still look good.

Equus ferus caballus, of the "brown" variety. Now why is it so hard to get a mini to look like this?

Tickle me brown

Before getting down to business here, let me ask a hypothetical question. If you were going to paint an infantry unit-- let's say the 1st Battalion of the 3rd British Foot Guards in 1909 --how would you go about it? I'll give you a hint: they wore red. Now get painting.

I'm guessing that at this point no one is ready to paint the 1/3rd Foot Guards 1909, despite my useful hint (well, aside from a tiny minority of sad, anal-retentive buttoncounters). Anyone actually intending to do such a unit would be well advised to seek out uniform references and plates as a painting guide. And yet most people will take their miniature horses, say "oh, they're (mostly) brown, right?" and blithely start painting.

Horse colour chart, blatantly lifted from Junior General. Hey, if everyone else is doing it, why not me?

And so I present to you the horse colour chart. Even a quick look at this would probably solve much of the usual brown-o-philia and horse-o-phobia. You can clearly see that not all horses are brown; furthermore, even the brown ones tend not to be completely monotonous.

But let's take our education a bit further, shall we?

That dratted real horse again, showing areas of contrasting colour.

Take a look at the above picture, and compare it to the colour chart. I think we're all intelligent enough to see the patterns here, so let's get painting.

Witty subtitle about painting 6mm horses

As always, I like to start with black. For the purposes of this demonstration, I'm also painting the horses in their entirety before painting their riders; in actual practice, this isn't necessarily the case. I'm going to do "brown" horses which tend to be the most common in my armies (a circumstance driven by the limitations of my paint collection, I should point out). Slight modifications to the shade of brown will give you bays and chestnuts.

Step 1: black undercoat.

Step 2: coat

In painting the brown coat, you'll notice that I've left the nose and socks black, and, because these are large-ish Adler horses, I've also taken some pains to avoid painting the eyes, nostrils and tack. More importantly, select a slightly lighter shade than you want your end result to be.

Step 3: hair

Pretty much as you'd expect: hit the tail, mane and forelock. I've used a dark brown for this, which I've also used on the base. Note that I also snuck in a gold edging on the shabraque and pistol cases in this step.

Step 4: ink

I probably should have mentioned this at the top, but in any case at this scale I like to use inks for shading. Here, I've used a dark brown ink on the coat, and a black ink in the hair. Note that these are inks, not washes; there's a difference. Inks tend to be more opaque, and are also quite glossy-- a definite advantage in this instance, as real horses tend to have quite a glossy coat.

Step 5: markings

Paint the nose, forehead blaze and socks as desired. Avoid painting the mouth and nostrils if possible. On brown horses I like to use white for the markings, as the contrast looks really spiffy. Dark brown or black are also realistic choices, but tend not to stand out so nicely. Another note: real horses may sport coloured socks on anywhere from zero to all four of their legs. For the sake of quickness and contrast, I almost always do all four.

Step 6: tack

Hit the bridle, reins, etc. in the appropriate colour. Most Napoleonic tack seems to have been black, so in this case I've simply touched up any overpainting from the previous colours.

...And that's it. You're done.


Just paint the riders, and you've got yourself some decent looking horsemen!

Grand Scale greys

As a special feature here, I'm also going to show how I paint my 10mm horses. This is a more complex, time-consuming technique, but it does look better. I've never bothered to try it at 6mil, but the Adlers, at least, are large and detailed enough that it could be done.

Ideally, I would have demonstrated brown horses once again, to better illustrate the differences between the two techniques. Unfortunately I wanted a grey team for my last Celtic chariot, so that's what you're getting instead. Note that in horse-speak the term "grey" actually refers to white horses (I don't get it either). What you're seeing me paint here are actually "black roans" or "blue roans" (yeah, I really don't get it).

Step 1: black undercoat. As per the usual.

Step 2: coat, and Step 3: hair

Anyway, you should already see the difference here: rather than applying a uniform slathering of colour, I've taken some pains to detail the musculature of the horses' legs and haunches. If your models actually depict this level of detail, all to the better; if not, it isn't that difficult to fake. Also worth noting is that on these grey horses I've painted the hair in the same colour as the coat. Finally, I've used a darker shade for the coat than I want the end result to be.

Step 4: ink

Here I've used black ink on the hair, socks and nose to give them some contrast.

Step 5: highlight

Here I've gone over the coat with a lighter shade of grey, keeping a border of the original shade. The result: instant highlights!

Step 6: tack

Paint the tack in your preferred colour, and you're done! This technique takes longer and a little more finesse with a brush. In ultra-close-up macro photographs it also tends to look worse than the simpler technique I outlined first; but at any realistic viewing distance, this is the better-looking way of doing it.

Examples of this 10mm horse-painting technique.

So that's my take on small-scale horses. In other news, I've got more of these smaller, friendlier posts in the pipeline. Heck, why not? It keeps me from wasting an entire weekend each time I want to make a blog post, and it also keeps me from going weeks and weeks without having anything to show. Is that progress? I like to think so.


  1. Very inspirational and I've copied a lot of this to vastly improve my horse painting. Especially happy with the blazes / noses / socks which do enhance figures of the 10mm and below sizes. I now use a dark ink to bring up the detail and now paint the tack in a contrast colour to make it stand out. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for this blog! I'm gearing up to paint four units of 10mm Copplestone "Horse Tribe" Cavalry, and after my first disastrous attempt with some GW High Elf cavalry, I needed pointers. These suggestions are very helpful. Glad Google pointed me your way!

    --- Howard, aka Parzival on The Miniatures Page

  3. Mike; thanks for taking the time to put this tutorial togather on painting 10mm horses, any where did you get those shield transfer?