Wednesday, 7 May 2014

How I Paint: Flames

I'm often asked about my painting, and I've been compiling an FAQ for a while; it might even make the light of day eventually. Beyond the usual "How do you paint so fast?", one of the most common questions is as to how I paint fire and flames on my models, and I must admit that I see an awful lot of models where the flames just aren't believable and it really lets the model down on what may otherwise be a very pleasant painted miniature. That's not to say I always get it perfect...

Now, of course, this is how I paint flame, and that in no way makes it the only way to paint flame. In fact, you may find this method may work with your miniatures and painting style, but it may not. Just as I once saw a tank wonderfully airbrushed and weathered with a commander poking out the hatch painted by hand in bold, bright colours, a mix of techniques and styles can make a jarring effect, and not in a good way. In that example, the tank looked gritty and real, the commander by contrast looked overly clean and cartoony. Both facets were exceptionally well painted, but together they just did not mesh. My style tends to be quite... heroic, in the sense of comic books and animated films. Grit and realism is not my thing, so if that's what you're looking for, sorry. Back to Google, and good luck!

Still here? Cool. Let's show you how I do it.

First off, some ground explanations. You'll notice that I use Citadel (Games Workshop) paints exclusively. This is because:

a) I used to work for GW. This has given me a lot of experience with them painting store armies and my own models. 
b) They're cheap and easy for me to source as I have two GW Hobby Centres locally and my FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store) stocks the entire range too. 
c) I have used other paints (though admittedly not as extensively) and still believe Citadel's to be the best paints out there: simple to use, and available in a wide range of colours and types. 

I'm also basing this on painting the Emberling and Purifying Flame from Malifaux (I thought I'd do two at once to showcase different styles of models). This assumes the model is primarily flame. The technique works just fine on smaller areas like the braziers on the 'Scales of Justice' pictured above. I also painted my Balrog this way (pictures in my LotR gallery). 

I should also add that this technique does work for other types of flame too, just substitute the colours accordingly. 

Step One:
I undercoat the model with Skull White Undercoat Spray. It gives a good even coverage, just make sure to shake it well and follow the manufacturer guidelines. Now, you could undercoat it with an Army Painter Colour Primer (I think Daemonic Yellow is the closest equivalent, and I do love these sprays. I'll say though, it means buying a whole new can just for the occasional flame model and Step Two is short enough that I think this unnecessary - I also find doing Step Two by hand allows me to examine the model in detail and get to grips with exactly what detail is on the model). If you're doing just a small area, undercoat however you usually would - the 'Scales of Justice' shown above was under coated with Chaos Black primer - then paint the flames with Ceramite White, Citadel's white 'Base' Paint. 

Step Two:
I thin down some Averland Sunset with Lahmean Medium (usually one brushload of Averland to two or three brushloads of Medium) then paint this all over the flame areas. Thinning it ensures the paint flows down into all the detail, nooks and crannies. Be careful not to over-thin as this can cause the pigment to become too weak and lots of the white undercoat is then left showing. 

Step Three:
I thin down some Evil Sunz Scarlet to the consistency of a 'Shade' paint (or ink). This is usually three brushloads of Lahmean Medium for every brushload of ESS. Unlike the 'Base' paints, 'Layer"' paints are already much thinner. The same amount of Medium thins them to a wash level. Slop this all over the flame areas and you'll now have a decidedly jaundiced model. 

Step Four:
Once the Evil Sunz Scarlet wash is dry, the entire model gets a drybrush of Yriel Yellow. Since Yriel Yellow is a bright paint, it has quite weak pigment and so the drybrush has to be done two or three times. Do not be tempted to try it all in one go with a less-than-dry drybrush. Take it slow and two or three coats. It's faster than you think.

Step Five:
I mix Dryad Bark with Abaddon Black in a 50:50 mix, then thin it down to a wash with about five brushloads of Lahmean Medium to one brushload of the mix. This is then painted over coals/skeleton etc. - essentially, whatever is inside the fire, which includes the metal boundaries of a brazier (like on the 'Scales of Justice's back). By the paint being so thin, a little of the yellow still shows and the sharp edges of the detail are slightly lighter, acting as a kind of natural highlight. 

Step Six:
I wash the entire model with Cassandora Yellow. This ties in the yellows and the reds of the flame, and adds a bit more 'heat' to the blackened fuel. You can afford to be quite liberal with this stage. 

Step Seven:
I give the black areas a very light drybrush of Longbeard Grey. I love the Citadel 'Dry' paints, but if you're one of those folk really averse to them, just mix a little White Scar into some Administratum Grey. I don't like the effect as much, but hey.

Step Eight:
Finally, and most painstakingly (though I assure you, it's still pretty simple) I highlight the flames from about halfway up with slightly thinned Dorn Yellow (again, a Screaming Skull and White Scar mix should do I similar), and then again with White Scar. This just adds those final highlights to the flames and really ups the heat. 

That's essentially it. It sounds a lot at eight steps, but once you've done it once or twice, it just becomes natural. These two models have been done in the space of an evening, with cooking dinner, eating it, taking the puppy outside every half an hour, and writing all of this too. Of course, there are a few wash stages which are the perfect time to paint something else whilst the washes dry. Now, naturally the models below aren't finished, the bases need work, but I wanted to shove some paint on it quickly just to show what the finished model could look like - there's something about a white base covered in stray paint that just looks awful.

So, that just about covers everything! I hope you've found some of this tutorial useful, maybe even inspiring. As usual, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them either in the comment section below, or to find me on Twitter at @BKellyCS

Of course, I can't finish this without a shameless self-plug. There is one other way to contact me, and that's at, my little commission painting project. You'll be welcome to ask any questions there, and of course, that includes enquiring about commission work!

Anyways, that's that. I hope to hear from you soon! Any questions about painting, always greatly received; I need enough Q's A'd enough to count as F so that they qualify as FAQ's!


  1. Cheers Ben ill be giving this a go at some point

  2. TY for nice tutorial. Your flame is fine, but colour scheme should be reversed: the hotter, the brighter.

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment!

      It's an ongoing discussion - whilst, yes, of course, higher energy shifts away from the red end of the spectrum, through white towards blue, I prefaced this by saying that "My style tends to be quite... heroic, in the sense of comic books and animated films. Grit and realism is not my thing..."

      I have tried to replicate 'true' fire before, but I found that it looks much less pleasing to my own eye, that it didn't appear as hot. I spoke with Anja Wettegren ('Eavy Metal Team) once about it too, and she commented that the team tends to get it confused sometimes for stylistic effect.

      In short, neither way is 'wrong' as long as it is done for aesthetic reasons. Some go for realism, some go for what appears more striking.