Tuesday 4 October 2016

Dry brushing - Dirty Words?

Afternoon all,

I wanted to write a short article on the technique of dry brushing to paint miniatures. I don't think it is any secret that as a group, table top wargamers that is, we have plenty of members within our ranks that can be very snobbish about how people wish to play the game, pursue the hobby, and paint our miniatures. 


I am guilty of this myself in many respects. I play very much for fun and fluff, and those persons who garner their joy from the purely competitive and "game breaking" aspects of the game are as much anathema to me as perhaps I might be to them. Yes, everyone who plays wants to win, but I'll take a fun loss over a dirty win as it were any day of the week. 

Similarly I like to play against painted armies, or at least see my opponents progressing with their army towards a painted state as I play against them, rather than just a perennially grey or undercoated army. I have very little care for HOW people paint their armies as we all sit at different abilities and as long as someone has taken the time to get it to a painted state I'll be damned if I judge them for that. 

However, something that crops up a lot as a trawl youtube, facebook, and comments section of blogs much larger than my own, is the idea that dry brushing is a "lesser" technique. I think this inherently judges hobbyists who might not have the time nor skill to apply other techniques to their armies and thus is derogatory to the painted outcome, but I also find that is generally misunderstands the technique itself. 

Double Standards

People are often quick to express their loathing at playing unpainted armies, but then will also be quick to judge painting that falls short of their own given arbitrary standard. Dry brushing is an excellent technique for beginners and veterans alike to get an army ready and painted for the tabletop and provides and easy to use technique that allows for a very visually satisfying standard when you view them on the tabletop. 

I have known people to paint upwards of 400 miniatures a year with dry brushing which has allowed them to accrue and play with vast and multitudinous armies. And playing is really rather the end point if you are in it for the game itself no? Certain schemes do lend themselves to this style more readily I feel, such as Iron Warriors (or many space marines in general), as well as Orks and Tyranids to name an extremely un-exhausted list!!!

Long story short, if people are critical of your army simply for the technique you've used to play it then I daresay these people are much fun to play against let alone become friends with! I encourage anyone who thinks that they "HAVE" to aspire to wet blending and other advanced techniques to really eschew that mentality. 

If you are happy with the army that you have produced then to hell with anyone else, pursue new and exciting painting styles at your own pace and don't ever feel belittled because you don't have a Golden Demon... you know like most of us!

The Art of Dry Brushing

The second part of this ranting and meandering article is about generally dispelling the concept that you can't reach "high standards" with dry brushing. I am a HUGE fan of dry brushing as a technique. Dry brushing, in concert with washes and glazes, is the main painting technique I use for my most prized armies. I very rarely apply line highlighting to my armies and it is usually only in a few very select places like the lenses of eyes or lights. 

The picture below is my current range of dry brushes that I used regularly:

As you can see I go from a big fat brush on the left to a size 0 brush on the right that I have trimmed with a scalpel and scissors to have only a few short stumpy bristles left alive to tell the tale. 

Like any technique in painting, dry brushing can be as a simple or as complicated as you want to it to be. I suck at wet blending an line highlighting, like a really fucking suck at those techniques. I don't think that limits me at all, as I just look at a problem and see how I can fit a technique that I am comfortable with (dry brushing if you hadn't guessed...) to fit that problem. 

Every miniature in this article has been primarily painted with basecoats and dry brushing with washes and glazes used to blur the dry brushed layers together and make it less obvious. Thats it! YES it has taken me several years of experimenting to get to this stage and plenty of practise believe you me! But I've got to a stage of making miniatures that I really enjoy looking at and I am proud to place on the table without learning many of the so called "advanced" painting techniques. 


This has been quite the rant from me I'll admit... But I find that this hobby can sometimes be very unforgiving by arbitrary standards set by a select few that can shout loudest and longest and this can serve to demoralise budding hobbyists of any age that want to show of their latest work on many types of social media platforms but perhaps are put off because they aren't using the latest painting styles or aren't at competition winning standards. 

I have to stop here and take note of all the brilliant people out there who DO encourage and guide and help anyone and everyone whatever level they are at. I have been the recipient of endless kindness and guidance on forums, social media and my blog alike. But so too have I suffered crushing snobbery and brutal criticisms that have done nothing but make me devalue my work unnecessarily! 

I hope that reading this has instilled in at least a few people that you don't have to become a master of all painting styles to produce beautiful miniatures and you certainly shouldn't have your standard of what is good set by anyone but yourself. If you're happy you're happy and you should play away :)

I do apologise for the wall of text and the ranting tone as well... I'll get back to mostly pretty pictures tomorrow :P

Peace out,



  1. Your dry-brushes look a hell of a lot like mine :-) I wouldn't call myself a drybrushing snob; there is definitely a place for it in what we do and I use it regularly. I have also found that it isn't always the best technique. If you want to paint an army quickly, drybrushing will get the highlights done faster, but it can leave a chalky appearance or feathering. If I want highlights that are clean and sharp, I now just hold my breath (actually, I breath IN slowly until the line is finished) and hard-line the highlights in. If the line is slightly too thick, it is usually wet enough to wet-blend into the background colour, reducing the thickness. Drybrushing is usually too dry to allow this, especially in Australia in summer when we are sweating m4cr0 cannon shells.

    1. Hahaha well you chose to live in a country where everything is designed exclusively to kill you ;)

      I was discussing with my Australian flat mate last night that Australia is either on fire or flooding with no in between!

      It certainly can leave a chalky appearance and washes and glazes are exactly how I negate that as much as possible.

  2. Rob, no-one who has seen your models in the flesh (so to speak) could argue that the technique you use is any less effective or impressive than any other method. I find that using washes and glazes with drybrushing tends to resolve the chalky issue that Marc mentioned.

    I too know a guy who's count of figured painted in a year exceeds 400 through the use of drybrushing, and you honestly wouldn't say his models look any worse on the table than someone who's only painted 25 models in the year using more complicated techniques.

    Personally I use drybrushing much less than I used to now that I have developed the ability to layer and blend a bit, but that's because those techniques lend themselves more to the type of finish I like on my figures rather than because I consider it any 'better'.

    My own personal chip on the shoulder comes from airbrushing. And that's mainly because I can't afford to buy one. I often find though that some of the more elaborate airbrushed finishes result in models with a slightly ethereal look to them - fine for things like Eldar but I personally find it a bit out of place in the grim dark future of 40k.

    1. When I do dry-brushing on a large scale I use glazes to remove the chalky appearance and knock back the highlights a bit, if necessary. Sometimes I don't want to fiddle around like that though. It is my go-to technique for things like hair/fur, adding depth to flat sections of metallics, textured surfaces like chainmail or plasma coils and weathering. I use it a lot on my Iron Snakes, because they have all of the above :-)

    2. Hahaha the guy we know is actually the same one :P I just didn't want to claim him openly as my friend having only met him once! I was just thieving your anecdote ;)

      I also don't like airbrushing.

      The problem I have with people saying x is better than y is that its like saying rembrandt is better than picasso.

      You can't compare across styles to say one is better than the other. I love my dark gritty style and I hate the airbrushed flat dull faded lines, or overly line highlighted cartoonish styles. But its just personal preference at the end of the day!

  3. For me dry-brushing is just a struggle. For such a 'basic' I think it requires quite a lot of skill to achieve. It's clear you have it and my mate PeteB manages to create exceptional results, in part due to 'polishing' his highlight with his finger immediately after which mitigates the chalkiness.

    That said I think some drybrushing I do can work - my craft acrylic Vermilion is always quite sympathetic to the technique but requires far more paint than you would usually drybrush. Recently even Duncan on Warhammer TV advised doing a swirly drybrush to achieve a specific technique, so you know if it's good enough for him its good enough for all.

    I also think stippling is a much underrated technique, it can be really quite 'painterly', almost pointilist in finish but it doesn't attract the same kind of snobbery because it's not so widespread.

    1. Ah Duncan, the second coming incarnate!

      Its funny you should mention stippling as its something I've never really gotten to grips with I have to admit, but looking at what you and Winters Seo can achieve with it, the results are undeniable :)

  4. Drybrushing all the way for me. All of my armies feature this technique heavily in their painting.

    1. And look at how many great armies you have to be put on the table top! Your white scars, orks and imperial guard are my joint favourites I must say. The Guard probably just about take top spot if I had to choose!

  5. Hobbie snobbery comes in all shapes and sizes from miniature snobbery against GW to painting techniques like you say.

    I first used drybrushing when i started my Scythes a few years back and found it an easy way to get the highlights required, I still use it now to a lesser extent on my new FW project, It works for me and thats all that matters.

    1. Exactly, its a certain technique in an arsenal and if it gets you what you want then all the better for it :)

  6. Personally I think that it is a technique that gives you a precise finish so, if you want to reach that kind of results, it is necessary but, if you want paint a whole army with it, it is a free (but not gratis) hobby, do what make you satisfied!
    I think that each one of us should paint his/her small soldiers in the way he/she wants, without taking care of what anyone says.

  7. Agreed. This is one of my standard techniques, and the foundation of my ability to very quickly turn out some pretty solid paint jobs. I actually even take it a step past you, with a 1" brush for doing edging while painting houses as one of my basic tools, especially for larger Models like Drop Pods or my Kytan.

    That reminds me, I should put up some pics of my Brimstone Horrors from Silver Tower. They were almost entirely done with a big drybrush, and they came out great.

    1. I LOVE your giant drybrush mate! And think your Khorne army looks absolutely cracking!

  8. Great job calling this out Rob. I too use dry brushing where it makes sense and it's a fantastic technique to be a part of our painting arsenal. The addition of washes and glazes make for amazingly quick work of models that are way better to play against the pile of grey plastic (because they were afraid of being ridiculed for using drybrush).

    1. Absolutely, this is by far not the only snobbery in the hobby, I feel for many women who have to deal with great amounts of shit, but its only through calling people out who think they can bully and brow beat that we can stop it :)

  9. I drybrush all the time too. It's a great technique and can be used in concert with airbrushing and anything else you like. Employ the tool or techniques that gets the job done to your satisfaction and to hell with the snobbery