Monday, February 17, 2014

H.O.W. TO: Painting Tyranids

As my work has been featured on the GW blog twice, users have requested a basic tutorial on how I paint my tyranids. Step by step details after the break.

When I began my hive fleet, Unending Maw, a few years ago, I decided to paint them as a splinter of hive fleet Leviathan. I liked the black and purple carapaces, but thought the bright, pure white of the skin was a little much, so I changed it to a bone white for a more natural appearance.

Below are some examples of my finished work. You can also find full galleries for the Haruspex, Trygon, Warriors and Swarmlord here.

For the tutorial, we'll paint a set of the new Tyrant Guard. I've been meaning to give my Swarmlord an escort for his foot slog into combat, and they'll serve as a solid example.

I removed the parts from the sprues, and cleaned the mold lines using an xacto knife. On newer kits like the this one, the mold lines are much less noticeable because the molds are new, and have not been worn over repeated runs - but they're still there, and still need to be shaved off.

BEFORE I glued to two halves of the torso together, I drilled holes in the upper shoulder sockets and mounted 3/16 rare earth magnets using superglue. I did this so I could have my choice of weapons on the guard. I did this NOW, so that a mishandled magnet doesn't slip inside the completed torso and rattle around like a maraca.

I also magnetized the limbs, making certain my polarity matched by marking them with a sharpie.

Once the magnets were embedded, I checked the fit, and assembled the bodies and lower arms. I did not attach them to the bases.

I primed the models using vallejo grey polyurethane airbrush primer. Aerosol primer works just as well, but this allows me to prime indoors. Keep in mind that cold weather greatly affects aerosol performance.

Note that I have not glued the heads on either. Attaching the heads would make it impossible to reach the back of the head carapce, or paint the inside of the carapace opening. Once the primer was set, I applied an airbrush coat of GW steel legion drab. This will be the shadow color for our exaggerated lighting scheme.

A key trick to making miniatures stand out is to exaggerate the shading and really emphasize the shapes. When something is small like this, light does not play on it like a larger scale object, so without techniques like this, or using oil washes to emphasize the recesses and details of a model, it can appear flat and uninteresting. Once the shadow value was applied, I airbrushed the parts with vallejo bone white - FROM THE TOP DOWN ONLY. This gives the appearance of a forced shadow, and helps define the volumes of the model.

Looking at this underside shot of the model, you can see how the shadows are exaggerated by the technique.

To push this even further, I applied a wash to the parts. I used a combination of GW Agrax Earthshade and GW Lehmian Meduim in a 50/50 mix. This does two things: One, it prevents the wash from running down the parts and pooling along the bottom. And two, it makes the wash dry faster.

Once the wash was dry, I completed the final step to exaggerating the shapes, I brushed pure vallejo bleached bone to the high spots on the sculpt. These would be areas that naturally catch light to be highlights. Look at the image below of the crushing claws for an example.

Once the skin was complete, I moved to the carapace. I brushed on a layer of vallejo black, and feathered the edges using vallejo hex purple, and hex purple and white. Note that because I DID NOT attach the models to the bases, I am able to get to the underside of the detail carapace without any trouble.

Once the underside of the models was complete, I crafted the bases. I painted the edge with GW steel legion drab, and marked where each model would touch using a sharpie. Once the paint was dry, I masked the edge and applied sand and cork using elmer's glue.

When the glue was dry, and the sand set, I airbrushed vallejo charcoal grey over the entire surface, and then dry brushed the stones using cold grey, then finally a mixture of cold grey and white for the edges. Dry brushing the base so quickly and freely would not be possible if there was a model on it.

Once the base was complete, I attached the model using revell contacta pro plastic glue. It will set thru paint without any issues.

With the model glued to the bases, I painted the body carapace with vallejo black, and then edge feathered the plates using vallejo hex purple.

When that was complete, I used a mix of hex purple and white to complete a smaller detail feather, further accentuating the plate edges.

I then added the small gradient dots along the limb joints. This is a signature of my army, and appears on every model, no matter how small or large, in varying levels of success. Some come out exactly the way I want - others, not so much. These are OK.

I painted the magnetized limbs. Using an airbrush, I applied a 4:1 mix of vallejo sun yellow and sick green to the tip of the lash whip. I use this color combination on all my mouths, tongues and poisoned weapons. I carries as color theme over the entire army.

I washed and highlighted the whip, and added a gloss coat to make it look wet with toxin. I also masked the entire model using a plastic bag, and airbushed a very subtle spray of hex purple along the lead edge of the carapace, to highlight its shape. When that was complete, I attached the head, and magnetized limbs.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that I did NOT attach the large, stupid looking "football shoulderpad armor" to the model, but instead used some of the extra tyranid armor plating bits that come on the gant sprues.

Well, that's how I paint all my tyranids (more or less). I'll post a glam shot gallery of the Tyrant Guard later in the week.



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  2. Awesome tutorial - thanks!

    Wish I had seen it before I had painted mine - very similar scheme but yours seems a better way to go about it.

    What colour did you use on the flyrant wings?

    1. it is a combination of vallejo hex purple and dead white. 1:3 ratio.