Why I Think You Should Stop Washing
By this I mean: stop washing your miniatures. I’m not talking about the pre-primer de-greasing that should never be skipped, but the technique of flooding a miniature with a thin dark colour to accentuate recesses. I think this technique is a trap for inexperience painters, a dead end which will prevent or slow down their ability to paint to the level that they want. I understand that not everyone wants to progress their painting, and that’s fine. This article is for those who do.
What Is Washing
A wash is a thin (non-viscous) and transparent mix of dark paint which is liberally applied to a miniature after it has been base-coated. The paint is translucent enough that it is only visible where it has been allowed to pool. The goal is to get wash into the recesses of the model without letting it pool on flat surfaces. Most washes will also slightly darken the base colour. Yes, there are washes which lighten surfaces but for my points let’s accept that I’m referring to shading washes and not weathering washes.
Washes Aren’t Shadows
I had thought of burying my point between a boring, though accurate, list of the downsides of washes. Things like drying time, tide marks, lack of control and so on. They’re true but they can be mitigated or even completely eliminated. The fundamental problem remains because it’s the reason people use washes. A wash settles in recesses and darkens them, the deeper the recess, the greater the shading. This is fine as long as the deepest recesses are the darkest shadows on the models, which isn’t always the case.
The most obvious example of this is folds in clothing, especially long, sweeping capes and jackets artistically rippling in the breeze. Imagine a single fold on it’s own. It starts vertical and slowly curves outwards. The more it curves, the more it faces upwards until it suddenly changes direction at the fold edge so that it faces downwards where it slowly curves back to vertical. Imagine a number of similar folds and where the wash would pool. It would pool where the surface was vertical, between the peaks of the folds. The wash would be deepest where the surface is vertical, or more likely, gravity would pull it to sit slightly on top of the fold. Where the wash is deepest is where the shadows are darkest.
Let’s look at some actual folds. This is a detail from Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates which I had managed to find by googling “Death of Aristotle.” I guess I’m not the only one to make that mistake.
As you can see the vertical portions of the cloth, where they move out of the shadow cast by the fold, are the same colour as the midtone and the shadow is generally darker the closer it is to the highlight, as well the highlight is lighter the closer it is to the shadow. Indeed, this strong contrast adds a tremendous amount of interest
When to Wash
Don’t get me wrong, there are uses for washes. Hopefully there’s at least a couple of people who’ve already skipped to the comments to tell me how I’m wrong if you want proof. Washes are great for enhancing texture. Fur, wood and panel lines benefit from washes. Although you could paint the darker colour over the entire area and then pick out the raised area as I did on this Batman Miniature Game Joker Clown. In this way I didn’t have to wait for a wash to dry.
Isn’t it terrible how many mistakes you notice when you enlarge an imagine of a miniature?
Basically I never wash and paint all my shadows by hand. I have no worries about my painting speed when I’m actually painting and to stop painting to let a wash dry is more likely to end my painting session rather than providing any advantage.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments, especially if you found this article helpful. I’m hoping to write a large number of them touching on very specific parts of painting to help all skill levels. For example, I think it would be useful to have a series of articles on applying highlights and shading to specific shapes.