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For quite some time it was acknowledged that all the 'best horses' in our group were painted by just one member. After a suitable amount of jealous grumbling, we interviewed him in an effort to mimic his technique. Unfortunately, a crucial part of his method appeared to be "Ignoring those new fangled acrylics, and sticking with good ole oil paints."

After much trial and error we developed the following tricks to make horses look as if they've been painted in oils, but with the speed, ease, speed, convenience, and speed of working with acrylics.

US 'Adventurer' on brown horse Mexican Col. on brown horse
The 'Easy' Brown Horse

On the right is an example of a 'brown horse' painted as part of a simple conversion creating a mounted Mexican Federale from a Wargames Foundry Franco-Prussian French lancer in kepi. The horse itself was from the Foundry Northwest Frontier line. For those interested in the 'conversion aspect' of the figure; the kepi was padded at the rear with putty, the Hungarian shaped boots were carved to look more like mundane riding boots, and the rider's open hand was filled with a model 98 bolt action Mauser rifle.

But now on to the subject of painting a brown horse with acrylics, but trying to make it look as if you're working with oils.


  1. Cover the entire horse in a 'medium' brown. If you want to get really fancy, you might bother to do this as a thick stain. (Which I'm told by 'serious' painters is really a wash that's just a little too thick to count as a real wash.) If you're really lucky, you'll get some highlights by using the stain. However, I've always had problems with the highlight areas turning out 'white,' so I just make sure that the horse is fully covered and save any shading and highlighting for later. A raw sienna is perhaps a bit too light for this step. I use (more of that cheap acrylic doll paint) 'Americana Light Cinnamon DA114'
  2. After the medium brown is well and truly dry, give the horse a thick wash of dark brown. I use 'Americana Asphaltum DA180' At this point I should probably mention that I give my horses about a full day to dry in between steps. This isn't really as time consuming as it sounds, because I usually paint horses in groups and thus I'm generally ready to quit once I've finished one step on the full group.
  3. Dry brush the horse with a light brown. This is really one of the key steps in the process, because you simply have to use 'Valejo Light Brown 929' Other shades or manufactures of paint just don't seem to do the job as well. We've discussed this a lot around the club and have decided that the 'opaqueness' of Valejo paints helps them perform more like oils than regular acrylics, so using them for this dry brushing step really seems to pull out the musculature on the horse.
  4. Once the dry brushed highlights have dried, mix up a thick wash of black. Any black will do, I bounce back and forth between Valejo and some of that 'cheap doll paint.' Many horses, but certainly not all, have darker legs than their bodies. By darkening the legs you add what one Hollywood Efx man once described to me as 'extra levels of complexity' to the figure. Suffice it to say that when other gamers look at your units of cavalry they're more likely to compliment your horses then to crassly point out that you have a disproportionate number of horses with dark legs. Anyway, back to painting. Apply the wash to all four legs. You'll want it to end up black down at the hooves, almost black at the knees, and gradually lighten as it reaches the body. You'll probably be constantly thinning and thickening your mix as you work each horse. Remember, it doesn't hurt to get some black into the creases on the actual body, and when you stand the figure up to dry the wet pigment will tend to run down the legs anyway.
  5. Now you need to decide on what color the mane and tail will be. I usually stick with either black or a light khaki, but make sure it's a tan khaki and doesn't have a yellow hue. I like my units to average about half black and half khaki. If the horse's tail is free flowing, then either color will work. However, if the tail is against on of the 'blackened' legs it's good to give that horse the lighter color. Once you've painted all the manes and tails it's a good idea to give the khaki ones a light dry brushing with very thin white. Black manes and tails look better with a thin dry brushing of a color named 'Americana Neutral Grey DA95.'
  6. Decide if you're going to paint the eyes. If so paint the whites now while you're also painting the 'white bits.' Randomly select between 1 and 3 legs on each horse for 'socks' etc. You've noticed these items on real live horses, and once again we're going to use more of them than there are in real life because of their visual impact. These socks can run anywhere from just under the knee to just around the fetlock. (That's just above the hoof for urban types such as myself.) I usually use two, and try to place them diagonally across from each other. You can also use them to make part of a hind leg white if you've accidentally painted the tail up against it black. Now decide if you're going to add a 'white bit' to the horse's face. I've found that the most effective patterns are; wider even with the eyes - narrowing down to a point at the nose, and a full white face starting narrow between the eyes and widening to cover the whole muzzle (nose and mouth). Remember, a white face can not be so wide that it runs into the eyes. This bit is really much easier than it sounds, because when your done with it you can use painting the bridle, etc. to 'de-emphasize' any little problems you've had.
  7. Paint the hooves. I like to use 'Americana Neutral Grey Da95' for 'brown' horses. Then touch up leatherwork where needed, and finish up the eyes. I don't bother differentiating between pupils and irises. (Some of our 54mm painters actually do!) I just put a relatively large black dot near the front of each eye. Remember, the horse will usually be looking 'forward,' and a horse's eyes rarely show much white - unless the animal is especially frightened.
  8. Finally, I've mentioned the 'Magic Wash' in the section on general painting tips, but I'd strongly recommend it for enhancing the look of horses. Besides, if you use the 'Magic Wash' then you don't have to shade the muzzle on 'white faced' horses. The 'Magic Wash' will almost always do a good enough job on that for you.

There you have it, the 'relatively' fast and dirty way to imitate an oil paint look on a horse by using acrylics.

Mounted Federale 1910
Step #1
Step #3
Step #4
Step #5
Brown Horse with Knee High Sock
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