Thursday, June 18, 2020

Painting Tartan the Royalist Way

The Royalist Army at Auldearn included large numbers of highlanders and one of the most striking ways to show highland origins for a unit is to cover it in tartan. It is also the quickest route to insanity (or a new hobby) for the wargamer painting multiple large units. Reproducing tartan on a 28mm model is not that easy, and if we are honest the model is probably too small to see the details of any but the most bold tartan anyway.

In this period most tartans were created from a rather muted colour palette of dyes and if we add the muck and grime of hard campaigning (a belted plaid was clothing, bedroll and rain shelter all in one garment), the best way to paint tartan is probably as various grubby shades of dark grey and brown with only the most subtle hints of a tartan weave.

But that's not much fun and doesn't give scottish highlanders the look we want so we need some simple techniques for painting tartan on inch-high models in such a way that they look good on the tabletop.

There are several ways to paint tartan on 28mm models, all of them quite similar in many respects. After painting tartan on almost 170 models for this project alone, I have landed on my own favorite method. Roy also paints his plaids in a similar way, but prefers a slightly different approach to me. Both will be covered in this 'how-to'.

Basic principles of tartan and the terminology

Before starting its worth saying a few words about tartans, how they are made and the basic jargon associated with tartan weaving that is used later in this article.

Firstly the term tartan is used in UK english to describe this peculiarly scottish checked weave. In the US the word plaid is typically used for tartan. In the UK, the word plaid is used to describe a blanket or sheet of cloth, typically of woven tartan. The most from of kilt worn in seventeenth century Scotland was the belted plaid, simply a sheet of woven cloth belted at the waist, with the lower part below the waist hanging as a kilt, and the upper part above the belt gathered to the back and slung forward over the left shoulder.

The three methods I will cover are:

   A. Simple tartan with overstripe only
   B. Simple tartan with block check only
   C. Tartan with block check and overstripe

Before I cover the three methods for tartan a few words on the base garment colour upon which the tartan will be applied.

Base Colour

The base colour is the typically the dominant colour on a plaid. This can be a wide variety of colours, but for simplicity and efficiency I focus on 4 or 5 base colours which I now a use almost exclusively. I use very dark colours as this helps to highlight the lighter overstripe. If the base is too bright, it becomes difficult to see the overstrike. And trust me the overstrike lightens the model enormously so please resist the temptation to give you base colour bright highlights.
  • Dark Red
  • Dark Brown
  • Dark Grey
  • Dark Green

Dark Red Base

Base colour = Coat d'arms Negro, with a dash of Foundry Terracotta 37B.  A similar effect is achieved starting with GW Scorched Brown/GW Rhinox Hide with a tiny dash of black.  This is the same base colour I use for Brown tartans so I base the brown plaids at the same time.

Mid layer = Foundry Terracotta 37A

Highlight = Foundry Terracotta 37B

Dark Brown Base

Base colour = Coat d'arms Negro, with a tiny dash of Foundry Terracotta 37B.  A similar effect is achieved starting with GW Scorched Brown/GW Rhinox Hide with a tiny dash of black.  This is the same base colour I use for red tartans so I base the red plaids at the same time.

Mid layer = 50/50 Base Colour & GW Snakebite Leather/GW Balor Brown/Foundry Buff Leather 7A

Highlight = GW Snakebite Leather/GW Balor Brown/Foundry Buff Leather 7A

Dark Grey Base

This is the same colour I use for hodden grey uniforms. Essentially Foundry Granite 37, but I actually prefer GW Charadon Granite as the base colour for this triad.

Base colour = GW Charadon Granite/Foundry Granite 31A (with a tiny dash of black)

Mid layer = Foundry Granite 31B

Highlight = Foundry Granite 31C

Dark Green Base

Base colour = Foundry Bright Bottle Green 41A (with a dash of black). Any very dark green, almost black in appearance.

Mid layer = Foundry French Dragoon Green 70A with a dash of the above Base Colour

Highlight = Foundry French Dragoon Green 70B with a dash of the above Mid Layer

Other Base Colours

When I began painting plaids I would include some lighter base colours, with dark overstrike, but after painting a few models this way I dropped light colour tartans because I much preferred the look of darker tartans. If you like the lighter tartans the method is essentially the same. Here is an example of light tartan with dark overstrike. 

The grey is a lighter grey based around GW Fortress Grey, but the black overstripe darkens it up a lot. The light brown plaid is GW Bestial Brown/GW Vermin Brown with a black overstrike. Now onto the tricky bits...

A. Simple tartan with overstripe only

This is my favorite way to paint tartan. A simple overstripe gives a great tabletop approximation of an intricate tartan, the absence of the underlying block check is not a problem as the block check is often so subtle that it is difficult to spot on the tabletop anyway..

Step One - Paint the Base Tartan Colour

Select your base colour and follow instructions above

Step Two - Add the Overstripe(s)

Overstripe colour
I use two main overstripe colours for all my dark-based tartans; white and yellow. I occasionally use a red overstripe on a green base, but red does not stand out as much as the yellow or white. For my light-base tartans I use exclusively black overstriping and as I mentioned earlier, I rarely use a light-base tartan as it is just not as striking as the dark-base.

Painting the overstripe
Once you have determined your colour, choose whether you want a single or double overstrike. I prefer double overstripe as it gives the tartan a more intricate look, and is not much extra work.

Mix you chosen overs trip colour 50/50 with the Tartan Base colour (Mid Layer) and water it down until it is almost translucent. Use a fine brush (0 or finer) and form you brush tip into a very fine point, and if this is not possible, flatten the tip into a narrow flat edge (I use a flat edge rather than a point).

Make sure the brush is not overloaded with paint by unloading on a tissue or scrap of paper (I do this as I form the tip of the brush into a flat edge rather than a point).

Now the really tricky part - where to paint the stripes. It is obviously easiest to paint tartan overstripes on flat hanging cloth, so I always start there if I can. Locate an edge of the cloth, for example the hem of the kilt, or the base of a shoulder-draped belted plaid.

Move a mm or two in from the edge and using the narrow edge of your flattened brush paint two narrow parallel lines about 1mm apart. Try and do this in slow careful single stokes which end at folds. Pick up on the opposite side of the fold and continue parallel to the cloth edge until you meet the beginning of your overstripe or the overstripe would disappear under a fold or some other overlying item, such as a belt strap, bag or other equipment.

Move 4-5mm in from this first pair of overstrikes and paint a second parallel set in the same way. Trying as far as possible to maintain a steady 4-5 mm separation by eyeballing (there is no need to stop and measure).

The really hard part of painting plaid

Step Three - Add the Overstripe Intersections

B. Tartan with block check only

Step One - Base Tartan Colour

Step Two - Block Check (broad stripes)

Step Three - Block Check Intersections

C. Tartan with block check and overstripe

Step One - Base Tartan Colour

Step Two - Block Check (broad stripes)

Step Three - Block Check Intersections

Step Four - Overstripe

Step Five - Overstripe Intersections

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