Tuesday, 1 November 2016

How I paint horses in oils by Kevin East

My wargaming buddy Kevin East rightly has many fans of his superb figure painting style. One suggested he does a tutorial on his method of painting horses using oil paint to get the lovely shading effects. So here it is ......

This is a quick run down on how I paint horses in oils:

 Naturally all the effort goes into the preparation of getting to the oil paint stage (1- 9)  This takes much longer than the oil painting stage itself which is actually the last element. I’ve illustrated a number of different coloured horses in the photos so you can see the progress unfold.


 I use the following method to allow easy access for painting around the whole figure. 
Cut 1" diameter dowelling ( broom stick handle) into 30mm lengths. 
Take hot glue gun and stick model to top of dowelling. ( This provides a great holding implement to gain painting access to all areas of the model). 


Get the horse ready to the stage where oils can be applied: 
1) Paint/spray the whole model black.( can be done before applying to dowelling) 
2) Paint all the horse furniture in standard paints with all the details - basically finish reins, all saddlery etc. 
3) Paint the whole of the horse skin in a brown 'slightly lighter tone' than your preferred final colour. Leave the socks and black area for leggings. 
4)Paint the horses eyes. 
5)Paint the socks and white on the horse in 3 shades. Only touch white where required.  
6)Paint the black leggings two shades of grey (getting lighter as you go) and then wash over with black ink. (This subdues the blatant shading differences. I practice this routine for all the reins too with its relevant colour wash).
7) Paint the hooves in two shades of buff where there is a white sock next to the hoof. 
8) Paint the hooves two shades of grey where there is a black sock next to the hoof. (Horses will have different 
coloured hooves depending on sock variations.
9) Paint the tail and mane the colour you wish and dry brush the two highlight colours on them. 

The horse is now ready for the oil painting: 


Oil paint required:-Titanium white, Paynes Grey, Ivory black, Burnt umber, Indian red (only use a spot of this when mixing the colour you want but it adds great warmth!), Brown Ochre, Raw sienna and Yellow ochre. Also some white spirit is required (unless you use water soluble oil paints – much more environmentally sound!), as well as a mixing palette ( I use the throw away paper ones) Toilet roll is also required
10) Only do the following process on one horse at a time. 
11) Mix a colour wash from the oils that is darker than the 'slightly lighter tone' of the skin colour of the horse. Mix in a lot of turpentine so it is very thin and runny (viscosity of milk).

 Paint the horse skin in this runny mixture so it covers all the areas of the 'slightly lighter tone'. 

Please be careful not to paint the black leggings, white socks, eyes, head stars, saddlery etc.  I use a couple of different sized brushes for this part so I can paint the head and fiddly bits with a fine brush and the rest with a broader brush. Clean your brushes in white spirit. 
12) Once the horse skin is covered take 4 untorn sheets of the toilet roll paper and fold in two. Place the horse in the toilet paper and fold it over the model so both sides of the horse is in contact with the toilet paper. 

Then apply pressure to wipe off excess paint but not too much. Compress the toilet paper under the belly, in between the legs, on the rump and on the face and everywhere (Do not wipe but compress).

The idea is to leave the runny paint in the recesses of the figure and leave smearing over the rest of the horse.
13) Mix a highlight colour from the oils that works with the remaining colour on the model. Mix this paint with a little white spirit. Paint the highlight muscle areas in this colour and merge with the background colour. 

Use of the same two brushes is useful here. 
14) As item 13) - Paint a lighter highlight on top of item 13) and merge. 

15) Leave the horse to dry for at least 3 days.  (Ha! - he should have warned of that in paragraph 1!!! -  now mine won't be ready for Saturday! - CG)

16) Spray gloss varnish. 
17) Spray matt varnish.
18) Paint gloss varnish any metal items. 
19) Remove model from dowelling by use of a chisel under hot weld glue.
20) Base as required.

I find items 10) to 14) in the oil painting section takes me 10 minutes per horse so I am generally getting 6 horses finished an hour. The whole thing sounds long and protracted but it is quick once you get the hang of things.  I hope the photos to support the above have helped in grasping the process. Many thanks to Chris for placing this piece on his  blog.  I hope the viewer finds this interesting and useful enough to try out! Painting in oils is a special experience! 

And here’s some views of the finished models.


  1. The results are lovely but I wouldn't have the patience for that many stages! I do remember a tutorial on painting horses with oils in Military Modelling back in the seventies and I tried it on some of those Airfix 54mm figures.

    I always paint metallics after I have varnished as it seems to be the nature of them that they don't rub off like matt paints...

  2. Hi Legatus, you know it might have been from that very Military Modelling article that I got into this! I remember painting airfix 54 mm Napoleonics too in the 70's - Ha, fancy remembering that! I agree metals are good and original painted after varnishing but then I also ink wash them too which doesn't wear so well if not varnished. Patience must be my middle name then! Thanks for the reminisce!

    1. They are truly lovely! Definitely more patient than me!

  3. Great masterclass. The effects are truly impressive. Thanks

  4. Great post Kevin and a wonderful tutorial on horse painting - horse painting always drives me INSANE! Will try this out this month and let you know how I get on. Thanks or posting Chris.

  5. Great stuff, looking forward to seeing the results Carlo. If you are not satisfied at the first attempt please try it again on the next horse until you get more and more confident and you'll soon get the swing of things. As with everything artistic practise is the key. I love the experience of painting in oils and I hope you find the same joy too. Cheers. Kevin

  6. I do the first lighter brown coat, and then the oil-paint coat and rubbing off exactly as you've described, except I do this stage BEFORE painting the reins, saddlery, socks, eyes, hooves etc. This means with the oil-paint stage you needn't be finicky at all - just slosh it over the whole model, then rub off to your heart's desire.

  7. Roly
    Personally I would agree with you, anything for an easy life with painting wargames figures....

  8. I will certainly give it a go in that order Roly! Cheers. Kevin

  9. Thanks for giving such a great information about horses
    these models are just amazing
    I'm very crazy about horses.
    keep doing well.
    horse reins