Every miniature painter should know early on the skill of dry brushing miniatures. It is a very effective technique for putting on highlights with reasonable results. The most common situation where you want to apply dry brush is a textured surface. Things like rocks, feathers, or wood are excellent. It does not mean you cannot use it in many other situations.
I am going to explain what exactly dry brushing is. What are the cases where it is super effective? What kind of brush you should pick? Finally, try to talk a bit about the most common pitfalls or questions about dry brushing.
What exactly is dry brushing?
Dry brushing is a technique of applying a dried paint pigment from your brush onto the miniature. Using a fast repeated brushing over a textured surface you deposit paint on raised areas. They will not get into any of the crevices or crannies. Thanks to this simple effect your pigment is going to be only stuck on the raised surfaces of the mini.
What do you need?
- Kitchen towel or toilet paper
- Any paint (yes any)
- Older or cheaper brush
Note on paint: Games Workshop is selling a paint range designed for dry brushing. Don’t look for any magic in these. It is nothing more than a dried out paint in the pot. I would suggest not wasting your time and money on it. It is ok to dry brush with a regular paint. On the other hand, it is impossible to use dried paint for regular painting. So if you want to pick a paint for dry brushing pick a regular one. You never know when you are going to use it for something else in the future. Also, it is ridiculous to have all paints in two versions (dry and normal).
Note on brush: I am not going to explain what kind of brush is the best here. This article is not about the brush selection and there is a good one on the FauxHammer blog. It seems like makeup brushes are worth looking into.
Get a small amount of paint on the tip of your brush.
- Make sure your brush is dry (duh!)
Wipe most of the paint onto the kitchen towel.
- When you think it is alright, go even further! Like with anything (in miniature painting), it is always better to apply paint in a couple of passes rather than all at once.
Test out the loaded dry brush.
- This could be either your hand (glove) or unpainted miniature base. If you see almost none of your paint is coming off the bristles, you are ready. You want to avoid paint streaks or heavy pigmentation as that could ruin your paint job.
Apply dry brush on your model.
- Start with a repeated brushing motion in a desired direction. Be gentle at first and observe what is happening and how is the pigment getting caught on the details. You can always go rougher later on.
When and how do you dry brush?
So now you know-how let us talk when. A general rule of thumb is to apply it to a textured surface where a little bit of roughness is not ruining the look. These could be rocks, dirty dusty metal objects, wood texture. In general dustier dirtier things.
Basing and terrain
The best and most common use case for dry brushing don’t is on bases and when building terrain. The dustier, rougher look that dry brushing produces is exactly what you are looking for. It makes your rocks, bricks, dirt, concrete look more realistic. Important to note, you don’t have to use a single color. It is very easy to blend different hues together by applying dry brushed paints over each other.
Dry brushing textured surfaces on miniatures
These are things like fur, detailed feathered wings, or dragon scales. Every time you have this detailed textured surface you can apply a dry brush.
Engines and metal objects
One of my favorite use cases for dry brushing is when I paint engines or mechanical metal objects. I usually start with a black primer and a heavy drybrush of metallic paint. This is going to give you a perfect basis for any further paint job.
Dry brushing sketch and zenithal highlight on miniatures
Dry brushing can be also used to strengthen your zenithal highlight. After you a black primer and a gray/white light spray from above, you can bring out your drybrush. Apply white paint to strengthen the highlights even further. It is important here that you only drybrush from top to bottom (or in the direction of your light source). Heck, you could even make the zenithal with the drybrush if you don’t have a white rattle-can primer.
I would not recommend a dry brush on things where in general you want to have a much more cleaner look. Those are skin, muscles, clean armor plates, faces, sharp details, etc…
Common pitfalls of dry brushing
Powdery look or chalkiness: Yes, this is exactly the result of a dry brush. You could avoid this by applying very little paint at a time with a super soft (makeup) brush. Don’t forget to cure the surface with either wash or satin varnish.
Too stiff brush: If your brush is too stiff, it could either break fine details on your model or even make the dry brush texture – roughness more pronounced. It is generally recommended to use softer brushes for dry brushing.
Direction of brushing: You have to be always mindful of what you actually paint and think about how light lands on your model. The direction of the dry brush is going to affect the finished look. Also, look at the direction of the texture on the model.a
I wish you all have fun with your dry brushing! It is a cost-effective technique that could help you with highlighting huge amounts of models in no time.