Painting Tattoos

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Painting Tattoos

On many occasions we get a miniature that asks for some great freehand tattoos to be painted on it. But for lack of experience or fear, people don't usually attempt to paint them because they don’t want to spoil the figure if they get it wrong.

To take away the fear or at least give you guys the courage to try your first step at freehand, I'll explain how I have painted them on the Bushido sumo fighter - Mikio.

First and foremost is to paint the figure as usual, without the tattoos. Decide on your skin colour and paint the miniature till you have reached a level you are happy with. So use your shades and highlight as if you were not going to paint anything over the skin. This first step will determine the definitive skin color of the miniature. Keep your skin colours (base, shades and highlights) at hand as they will be used throughout the process and when adding the final touches.



The first thing to do is to outline the pattern on the skin using a very light color to mark where you are going to paint the tattoo and get the proportions right. It is best to use a well diluted paint. We are only outlining at this stage so a strong contrast won't be any good. We want the paint to run well over the painted skin and the desired outcome is a subtle mark around where the tattoo will be painted, so I would use a light contrast for this.

One of the most important factors for your tattoos to look realistic is to be clear about the colour scheme. It is paramount to know that, no matter what colour you are painting on your tattoo the colour needs to be mixed with a bit of the base colour used in the skin.

If we are going to paint a red tattoo, you have to take a little flesh colour and mix the red with it. If we are going to paint a green tattoo, mix the green with a little flesh colour, etc..This way all the colours will fit together nicely giving more realistic tones.

When painting black tattoos (including the outlines of the tattoos), we need to use a variation of the process above. This is due to the fact that black tattoos turn slightly green or purple with time. In the case of Mikio I used purple.

It is important to remember during the painting process that your black colour will always be this purple (or greenish color if you decide to use green). So if you want to do a dark colour on your tattoos, you have to mix the intended colour with this purple/green colour. (use purple or green instead of black). You could add a bit of black just to make the final colour a bit darker, but it is better not to overdo it.

Never use pure black as it will stand out too much against the mix of skin and tattoo colours ruining the realistic look. You have to remember which are your dark and light colours and apply them in this specific order.


Painting it

Now that we have our outline on the miniature it is time to paint some tattoos!

If the tattoo requires an outline in black (like for example the girl, the dragon and the tiger on Mikio) proceed to mark them like we have explained above. If no outline is necessary paint the tattoo colours straight on to the skin (like the Japanese print that Mikio has on his stomach).

Remember when painting, all the colours should be mixed with a bit of the base skin colour and we want the mix to be well diluted to allow the paint to run over the existing skin colour (better to do a few diluted layers to build up the colour than a single layer of thick paint).

For example I used a light blue glaze on Mikio's chest. The final product is a perfect blend of the existing skin colour with a blue tone. This is simple and easy to do. The lighter the glaze used the more noticeable the underlying colour will be and will create a better and more realistic blending of the tones.

At this stage if you make any mistakes just go over them with the skin colours.



Now that you have painted the tattoos and you feel that they are finished, you need to integrate them further with the skin of the miniature to make them look more realistic. To achieve this we will shade and highlight the skin NOT the tattoos. For the shading we will use the shade skin colour used in our first step when we were painting the skin (pict 1) we should go over again and paint the shades on the skin, using a well diluted glaze of the shade color to go over the tattoo’ed areas. This will give the tattoos more of a skin colour, making them look more realistic. Then do the same with the highlights. Highlight the skin in all the areas you highlighted when you painted the skin and use a well diluted glaze of the highlight color to go over the area where the tattoos are.


Now is up to you how realistic you want to paint your tattoos and the level of contrast you want to achieve. Practicing the 3 steps to learn and improve your understanding of different colours, and how to integrate and blend them into the overall model.

By Alberto Gil (SuoU)

GCT Studios would like to thank Alberto Gil for a beautifully painted miniature and for taking the time to enlighten us all.