Among the many possible painting styles, blacklining is the technique where a thin line of dark paint is run between articles of clothing or gear on a miniature in order to make the detail stand out better. This technique has been discussed in other articles but I want to offer my experience to help clarify this painting skill. Please note that the technique of “blacklining” may actually include using colors like charcoal, dark and medium brown shades.
What makes blacklining different from painting is the consistency of the paint. The consistency is much more watery and fluid than paint, almost like milk (and described in other places as a “wash”) – I usually start by mixing 3-4 drops of paint in an old paint jar with 3-4 eye droppers full of water and shake. Actually, I never remember to write down my recipe, so as the container is running out, I paint some of the wash onto a paper towel and match it up to the new batch I am making. The advantage of having thin, runny paint is that it flows in the clothing folds, in the lines separating items and crevices of the figures or vehicles. It is usually light enough that it does not stain the painted surface if any gets on it but is dark enough to make the deep lines look better; if one coat does not work, the second usually does the job. Sometimes I have to water down the already thin wash – experience will teach when this approach is required.
What makes my practice different is that, while the technique is called blacklining, my preferred color for most projects is actually not black as this looks too stark on my figures (however, I do use black for darker shades of purple/blue). What I prefer to use for this technique is the shade “charcoal.” This shade just looks better to my eyes and looks more natural. I also use a very dark shake of brown (Bittersweet) and a medium shade of brown (Chocolate) for blacklining different base colors. Please use the chart below as a reference (based on the primary color being blacklined), the key being to use a blacklining shade that is darker than the base color:
|Base Color||Blackline Shade|
|Purple||Black or Dark charcoal|
|Navy blue||Black or Dark charcoal|
|Medium, light blues||Charcoal|
|Dark browns||Black or Bittersweet Brown|
|Medium browns||Bittersweet Brown|
|Light browns||Chocolate Brown|
|Reds||Bittersweet or Chocolate Brown|
|Orange||Bittersweet or Chocolate Brown|
|Green||Any of the above|
I have used this technique in two different manners: 1) painting the main color with highlights and then blacklining the details and/or 2) doing the blacklining first and then painting the main colors and highlights. The advantages of both are improved visibility of the miniatures’ details. The disadvantage of technique #1 is occasionally the wash gets on the main color; the disadvantage of #2 is the need to take more care with painting the main colors. With both techniques having a spare brush is handy to mop up any extra wash in crevices – the thin consistency allows excess wash to be easily drawn away.
Please note how the blacklining technique has enhanced the detail of the white leather on the pack on the right.
Please feel free to write and ask any questions. This technique can really help bring out details in figures – hey, if the sculptor took the time to put them there, well, make sure they are shown off! I hope this helps improve the final results of your painting projects!