Saturday 18 August 2012

Arcane Armorials: Painting Skulls... The Old School Way!

Regularly followers of my blog will know about my struggle to paint designs free hand on old '80s Citadel plastic shields. For years, such skill eluded me... But recently, after discovering an ancient guide in an equally ancient White Dwarf I managed to paint a quite convincing Blanche 'Citadelesque' style grinning face and can now pull of variations of these quickly and effectively. The next thing on the list was to be able to paint a convincing skull, especially considering I have been working on some undead miniatures in recent weeks.

Well this blog is going to serve to document this little journey. I've had a few practices and even worked up my first skull onto a shield (though I have tweaked it since by adding more detail) and armed a skelly with it.

First though, I had to do the research and collect together some templates to act as inspiration.

How about these for technical brilliance? The work of Colin Dixon in 1986. What a fantastic range of images to copy and adapt when painting old school shields. I'm no where near this level of painting yet but it is certainly something I aspire to achieve in the future. Below are a few other skulls images culled from the excellent resources found on thecitadelcollector from Bryan Ansell's collection.

Standard Bearer from the Nightmare Legion Regiment of Renown. I'm not sure if that is grey hair or ethereal slime dribbling from the skull's mouth.

A simple conversion here. Note the old tin foil banner (with some damage) but a good use of the skull from Arcane Armorials. I borrowed the single eye idea for one of my skulls.

Three troopers from the Nightmare Legion. Early use of photocopier there! Cut out and stuck on skulls on each of the shields. Simple, but effective. I really, really like this skull design. Fantastic with a taste of horror. 

If you Google skull clip are you get loads of ideas. Most of them are unusable for a 2D painting but there are some real crackers among them. Here are a few I really liked...

Right, let's have a look at what I've managed to produce recently then...

Keen eyed readers may recognise the shield on the right. I've worked it up a bit since you last saw it, with a mystic symbol in the forehead and yellow, staring eyes. The other is more of a flat design, quickly produced with the house of cards symbol on the forehead.

Okay, let's have a look at how you can paint a skull design in a few easy steps...

 First off, prepare your shield. Give it a nice base colour of your choice (here I used Bilious Green) and a darker wash over the top to create a little shading around the rim. 
 Once dry, block out the outline of your skull in a nice dark brown. Don't worry too much about coverage here.
 Using black ink, paint on the details and complete the outline of the skull.
 Highlight up with a lighter brown. Remember to pick out the teeth.
 Do a further highlight with Bleached Bone, remember to keep the paint quite watery and go for a fluid, painterly style in application.
 Final highlight around the edges with white. Again, keep the paint nice and fluid. 
Tidy up the rim, I used stippling to do this, and add the silver rivets. I added a nice red symbol to the forehead too. 

Job done!



  1. I still haven't picked any shields up yet, but this'll be the place I come when I do!

  2. Needz Moar Skullz! ;)

    Brilliant work - looks like you've nailed skull design. Really like the new and improved design on Scremaer's(?) shield.

  3. That is an awesome skull!!!!! I have been working on faces for my next project.

  4. Thats great stuff! very well done!


  5. Orlygg

    This brilliant, thanks for posting it. Reminds me of the old 'Eavy Metal articles I used to read in the eighties. I'll definitely be giving this a go on my undead army.


  6. Very nice ! So 80's but that's what I like !

  7. O...M...G. This totally fits the old style, in every good way possible. I am officially in love with this site, and I've just barely started visiting it. I still have some of the OOP paints in the photos, as well as the Coat D'Arms!

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