One of the first painting techniques new painters want to learn is how to dry brush miniatures. There’s a good reason too. It’s a very simple technique for highlighting a model and it’s very easy to learn.
So, if you’re a new painter and looking to learn how to dry brush miniatures, then you stumbled into the right article.
Dry Brushing for Miniatures
Dry brushing is a form of highlighting. It’s the easiest to learn and also fun to do.
Highlighting a miniature shows light and in turn shadows. It’s something we do in miniature painting to really push the concepts of light and shadow because the models are so small. Letting light naturally highlight and shade a miniature isn’t as captivating, or really natural looking either do to the scale of the model.
The most effective uses for dry brushing miniatures is when you’re dealing with vary textured surfaces. Let’s say you want to highlight sand, rocks, fur, or hair. Those are perfect for the technique.
What this technique is not well suited for is large flat surfaces, like those of a tank or plane. The dry brushing technique will leave a textured like look to the area it’s used on.
When you’re talking about very textured things, like sand, then you’ll never see it. But, if you’re working on a large flat area, that textured look will be very apparent.
That being said, that textured look could be exactly what you want too. Maybe you want to give an organic look to your tank. I’m not saying you can’t do it, just know what the end result will be ahead of time.
How to Dry Brush
Alright, so let’s learn how to dry brush.
As I said, this is very simple to do, so this tutorial will be pretty short.
Here’s a Zombie I’m working on for my Undead Blood Bowl team. As you can see, I’ve already washed the grass to give it shading. Now it’s time to get some highlights on there to really make it stand out.
First things first – the brush itself. This painting technique will destroy your paint brushes. DO NOT use your good brushes for this. What you want to use are your old, ragged, and already ruined brushes for this.
Alternatively, which is what I’ve done, is buy a brush just for the task.
I like this brush because it’s got thick, wide bristles, so it holds a lot of paint and covers a lot of area.
I got that brush cheap at an art store for like $1. There’s no sense spending good money on a brush I’m going to slowly destroy.
I find these wide, flat brushes work best. However, you can use any brush you like. A typical round brush does well when you’re trying to be a bit more careful when working on a smaller area.
You can buy brushes from Citadel that are intended for dry brushing. I haven’t used them personally, so I can’t say if they’re worth the money, but it’s an option.
Anyway, I tend to load paint about half way up the bristles.
Wipe off Excess Paint
Now we have to wipe off almost all the paint.
So, using a dry paper towel, brush your brush against it to wipe off the paint. Keep going until virtually no paint comes off any longer.
Your brush should look like this.
It doesn’t look like there’s any paint left in there but there is.
Start Dry Brushing!
Taking your brush, you want to brush it over the surface that’s getting the highlights.
It’s hard to get a picture of this by myself while doing it, so that shot does look a bit odd, I apologize.
Anyway, you’re going to brush across the surface very lightly, repeatedly, and back and forth. You’ll quickly see the area getting highlighted.
That’s basically it! However, you can keep going.
Also, while the technique is really simple, like anything, it takes a bit of practice. You’ll learn with experience when you’ve got the right amount of paint, how hard to brush the surface, etc.
So, don’t get frustrated with your first few attempts. Do it a few times and you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
Build it Up
I usually do two layers with dry brushing. The first layer goes on a bit dark and then the second layer adds more emphasis.
When I do the second pass I focus on the areas that get the most light. In this instance that would be really everywhere around the Zombie. Meaning, I don’t do a second pass underneath him, between his legs.
In doing this I help further emphasis the concept of light and shadow and give it a realistic look.
I know it looks very much like the previous one but it is subtly different.
Though I’m not doing it on this model, often when you dry brush you will use different paints for highlights and to build up the effect.
So, I could use another color that’s brighter than the green I used and do another layer, further pushing the highlights in the areas that get the most light.
That type of progressive build up gives a nice look. I didn’t do it here only because I wanted to keep the tones where they were and not get too green.
Other Examples of Dry Brushing
Just to show you a range of things you can do with this technique, here’s some other stuff I’ve done.
The bases on my Magore’s Fiends warband were all dry brushed for the stone area. The textured surface lended itself to the technique for easy highlighting. Plus, I like doing this on stone surfaces because it makes the stone look more realistic.
The fur on the left should was done by building up some layers through dry brushing. I started with a darker color and kept lightening it a little bit as I moved up towards the top.
Fur is perfect for this technique.
Oh, also, the base was washed and dry brushed as well.
Here you can see some really simple weathering I did by using a metallic paint and dry brushing it over the painted metal areas.
Dry Brushing Tips
These are all things you’ll learn with experience but I’ll help you get there quicker :)
Use a Lighter Color
When you’re choosing a color for a highlight you want to go lighter than you would normally if you were layering.
The process of dry brushing is depositing trace amounts of paint to a surface, so the intensity it leaves behind is subtle. So, you want to go a bit lighter than normal so that your highlighting is seen and not lost on the previous layer.
Use a Dry Brush (No Pun Intended!)
Make sure the brush you’re using is completely dry. If you washed a brush, and dried it off on a paper towel, then it’s still too wet for dry brushing. Trust me; you’ll get wet streaky paint instead.
So, if you plan to do a lot of dry brushing then make sure you have a few brushes on hand so that you always have a completely dry brush ready.
Also, if I’m doing progressive layers to build up a highlight on something, then I will use the same brush.
Meaning, if I’m working on sand and add a highlight with Brown #1, then I won’t wash the brush when I load up Brown #2 for the next layer. It’s a simple way to get the two colors to blend a bit.
Unlimited Uses Beyond Highlighting
You’re not limited to only highlighting miniatures with dry brushing. You can use it for a range of things like weathering models, creating glow effects, or simply creating texture.
For example, say you have a jet miniature and you want to give a used look to the engines. Use a dark brown paint and dry brush all around the end of the engines and back a bit from the exhaust area.
Then use a black paint and do the same but focusing mostly near the exhaust area, leaving some of the brown further back.
Now you’ve got a soot covered engine by using two paints and a simple painting technique.
For really simple weathering on armor you can dry brush over colored metal areas with a silver paint to create a worn, scratched look to the armor. Like I showed above with the Predator tank.
Here’s a tutorial on someone using dry brushing for OSL (object source lighting). Typically OSL is done with an airbrush or by blending, but this painter decided to use a classic technique for an advanced result.
Cleaning Your Brushes
Other than the brushes getting damaged from repetitively brushing textured surfaces, your dry brush will have a lot of dried paint in the bristles. You’re loading the brush, drying it off on a towel, then dusting over a model, so the paint gets stuck in there really well.
I highly recommend you routinely clean your brushes with Masters Brush Cleaner. Even though you’re using cheap brushes for this, you don’t want to have to buy new ones more often than needed.
That’s all there is to it. It’s super easy to learn how to dry brush miniatures and it really will help push your painting ability.
The place I use this technique the most is on scenery and terrain for gaming tables. You’re often dealing with a lot of sand and gravel there. Also, it’s great on large buildings too if you want a weathered and worn look to them.
Of course, you want to use a large brush for stuff like that. I use a 2 inch paint brush for that stuff, otherwise I’d be there all day working on one piece!
A quick note on the technique itself. There are painting snobs who look down on anyone who dry brushes. They see it as a basic technique for beginners.
Ignore those fools. Painting is never about how you achieved something, only that you did. The end justifies the means. If what you painted looks great, then it doesn’t matter how you did it.
I’ve been painting miniatures since 2006 and I still use this technique where appropriate. It’s a tool in the arsenal of any smart painter.
Speaking of tools, if you’re a new painter, or even a veteran, then I’ve got a great article covering painting supplies every painter needs. It covers everything from brushes to primers to lighting.
Anyway, I hope you learned something here and have fun painting!
Do you have any tips for dry brushing? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments.
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How to Dry Brush Miniatures – Simple & Effective Highlighting Technique