Here is a technique I’ve come up with on my own instead of reading about and adapting. Actually, that’s not true but it’s a technique that I picked up from outside of painting miniatures. I have to give David Petersen credit for my discovery. I don’t know who he learnt it from but it was because he wrote about it on his blog that I discovered it. It’s a rare technique that can be used by army and competition painters alike. It’s also really easy so I’m going to focus on the why of it rather than the how.
Flatting is a type of basecoating that, like basecoating, comes between priming and rendering. Where basecoating is used as a foundation for the rendering flatting is used primarily as a planning and visualization technique.
When I’m flatting a miniature I like to pull out all the colours I plan on using. I pick a colour that is close to the midtone of the final rendered colour. Using a wet palette I lay out my colour, let’s say red, and start painting all areas of the miniature I want to be red. Not just red, but that specific shade and texture of red.
I continue in this manner, leaving previous colours open on the palette, until I have covered the entire miniature. I work fast as this is a sketching and planning phase rather than a layer that will be readily visible. I do multiple coats only as required to have an idea of the contrasts between the different areas of the miniature.
I also try to write down each colour on a single sheet of my painting notebook so I remember what I started with. I paint slowly with long breaks so it can be weeks or months before I come back to a specific colour.
Working quickly I don’t feel bad about changing my mind about the location of colours. The idea is to make sure the shapes and details that I want to stand our do stand out on the miniature. Sometimes, if there are two similar colours, I will exaggerate the difference between them so that I know which is which.
For example, if I was using this technique on one of my Alguacils — I painted these before I developed this technique — I would have painted the darker red plates much darker than what you see here and the warmer plates a colour closer to orange. Using my notebook I’d mark what my intention is.
I also mark any modifications I want to make later. The idea to exactly define the final colours but to give me a way to think about all of the colours at the same time and what their relationships are.
So, why do this instead of basecoating. Partly this came from wanting to save a little time before the rendering stage. During rendering only a small area of midtone will remain so painting the entire surface is wasted. I started roughing my tones in instead and found I liked the freedom it gave me.
When you are flatting you are never stuck with a colour choice. You aren’t putting enough paint on the model to worry about creating a thick layer and you aren’t spending so much time on each colour that you feel obligated to stick with it even if it doesn’t look right.
I mentioned above that this technique is useful for both army painters, who traditionally value speed of painting highly, and competition painters who are happy to take as much time as it required to get the job done right. So when I say speed I am not talking about finishing the miniature faster.
The goal is to finish the entire stage in a single sitting. I paint too infrequently and have too many distractions to sit long at the painting table. I just don’t have the mental or physical stamina to do this. This means that when I would paint I would only see one section of the miniature at a time. If I wanted to compare what I was working on with another part of the miniature I only had the parts I’d finished painting to compare.
By performing this whole step at once you get a global view of your miniature. You see all those little bits and bobs that will take you forever to paint later as well as discovering whether painting the cloak and the boots green will cause them to blend together when the miniature is finished.
This is a planning stage. This helps you make sure you don’t waste time later putting in all the little details are discovering that your scheme doesn’t work. It’s a visualization of the finished work that gives you a chance to become familiar with the miniature. There’s a piece of advice for miniature painting that tells painters to work from the inside out. Sometimes this is true, but sometimes the inside isn’t that different from the outside. At the end of flatting you will have a good idea of which areas need to be painted first to prevent accidentally painting on a finished area later.
When you are finished flatting you will have your plan. The next time you sit down to paint you can pick a colour, mix it up and be confident that you will catch all the spots on the miniature that need to be painted that colour. There’s nothing worse than getting out a colour, and in my case, all the colours I use to shade and highlight that colour, finish an area and move on to the next only to realize that I have to take everything back out. When it’s time to paint red you just find all the red parts of the miniature and paint them.
For the Army Painter
I think that all those reasons speak to the competition painter. Army painters think differently. They think in terms of hundreds on models and they think “I want to finish painting these miniatures” rather than “I want to paint these miniatures.”
Planning contrast, making changes. These things don’t matter when you’re painting the 10th private in a Napoleonic infantry battalion. So really, it’s the quick creation of a plan that is the most important benefit of this technique. Assuming you are putting at least a highlight, midtone and shade on the model you will likely be overpainting the majority of the miniature. Painting two extra layers on 100 miniatures is like painting 300 miniatures.
By flatting you can pull out your highlight shade and apply it to the entire model. Then you can add your shade, then another coat of the midtone and you’ll be finished. By being able to paint all the highlights at once saves time through economy of motion.
Also, if you thin your mid at the end and paint 2-3 coats instead of one it’ll create a slight blend between your high, mid and shade which will signifcantly improve the look of the miniature.
I hope I’ve convinced a few people to try this technique. I find it really helpful and this quick groundwork helped improve my speed and quality and make me more relaxed painting. I didn’t need to worry about colour placement or having to go back to fix things. I just picked my next colour and painted all those areas.