In today’s tutorial I describe a approach to painting that I’ve been championing as part of Contrast Miniatures first year: Sketching in Value. Using this technique you can paint expressive gaming miniatures quickly and effectively, or use the technique to plan out your contrast to ensure a more dramatic result. Enjoy the article!

What is Value?

Value is the artistic term for the contrast between light and dark areas. The most important use for value contrast is to help our eyes to correctly interpret the forms that we are depicting. On miniatures this means using highlights and shadows to enhance the forms allowing the eye to interpret the sculpture and direction of lighting. It’s important to note value contrast should also be considered when choosing your colors and where to place them in relation to each other. However, for this article we will be focusing on the first job of value contrast: highlights and shadows.


Sketching Value

In this tutorial I’ll be describing one simple method of “sketching” the values of the model. If you haven’t read our intro article I recommend you do that first so you can learn about sketching as a concept.


Pre-shading stepI start my value sketches with a technique called “pre-shading”. This can be applied via an airbrush or through spray primer. I use spray primer when I am going for a rougher “painterly” look. This style, which integrates a speckled look, can save a ton of time and still have just as much visual impact as a blended miniature. For this article I’ll be focusing on this method because it is accessible to painters of all skill levels, but I’ll touch on airbrushed pre-shading later in the article.



Black stepUse your preshading as a guide to create your value sketch. Look for areas that are still mostly black primer and apply black paint in these areas to strengthen the effect that is already there. Notice how your black paint is in fact darker in value than the black primer. Don’t be afraid to really darken in overhanging areas. You should also black line to create definition in areas of highlight and use thicker bolder lines in the shadow areas.



White stepStudy the pre-shading and use a pure white to strengthen the bright areas to create highlights. To create a dramatic effect place bright areas next to very dark areas. It’s important to study the pre-shading and use it as a guide for placing the white highlights.



Final sketchNow enhance the light with additional highlights of pure titanium white. I use a heavy body artist’s grade acrylic from the tube. These highlights will indicate the strongest lights. Also use the titanium white to indicate materials. Like metal, fur, leather, glass… anything is possible


Using the Airbrush

I apply my pre-shading with the airbrush whenever I am going for a finely blended effect. This method takes additional time because you must preserve the smooth blending of the airbrush during the enhancement stages that follow.

Before pre-shading with the airbrush you may consider the option of a colored pre-shading leading into a colored sketch, but that is a topic of another article…

Finishing the Sketch

By utilizing translucent glazes of color we can take advantage of the bold sketch to achieve quick expressive paintings. By applying thin paint and ink glazes to the model you can quickly bring in color. If done correctly you will still be able to see your sketch through the layers of glaze. This eliminates the need for basecoating and layering. You can often get a good result in only one thin glaze over the sketch. The boldness of your sketch work will make the models readable at a distance.

Starting with a value sketch can also be extremely useful for mapping out the beginnings of a high level paint job but that is a topic for another day.


I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial and maybe you are itching to get started on a value sketch of your own. If you’ve found this article informative and useful please help me to continue to bring more great free articles to you by donating to my site. Contrast miniatures is still young… These articles take a lot of time and effort to put together so every dollar helps me to bring you more great articles!