Oil Washes

My Adventures in Oil Washes.

creator: x14km2d | build: 2021-11-27 | update: 2021-12-30


I learned a pretty hard lesson today. Don’t invest too much time in a test. I had built a window study here and thought times after this Black Magic Craft video to also use oil washes. The reason is pretty simple. My parents, relatives and friends have always given me oil paints for the holidays because I am into art. Unfortunately, I never told all these friendly people that I find the smell of oil paints obnoxious. So all these tubes landed in my paint cabinet and set there dust. So why not invest all those paints in my new project and save a buck? I’ll just have to ignore the smell then. That was my plan for the first test with oil washes. The plan was good, but unfortunately Lillie’s arms were too short.

First Test

Of course, I didn’t have the same materials, so I improvised a little. That was a mistake. For me. Not for you. I gave the model a black primer and added highlights with white. Instead of acrylic paints I wanted to try expensive Tamiya colors. I still had some gray tones that should go away, because I almost don’t use them anyway. I painted the bricks in a red stone acrylic paint. That all worked out quite well. Since you can’t use an oil wash on acrylics, I sprayed on a vanish. Exactly from the same brand that have already produced the bad white primer. I let everything dry for one night.

Unfortunately, I then noticed that I do not have these eyeshadow sponge brushes that all use in the videos and I wanted to order now nothing. I did ask my roommates, but they also only had already used eyeshadow brushes. So I used the disposable cotton pads as an alternative. What should happen? I can clean a few small hairs with the tweezers or my fingers from the surface of the model again. It shouldn’t be that much work, because the washing process can be done pretty quickly.

I smeared the $3 dollar store oil paint, which is super pigmented by the way, onto a saucer and then thinned it with Tamiya Liquid Thinner. I then took a brush and applied the wash to the model. The first three seconds everything worked really well and the oil washes effect showed its pure beauty in that paint flowed super fast into even the smallest crevice. Wonderful. My plan works. Not. After about four seconds, something dissolved. The clear coat? The Tamiya paint underneath the clear coat? I don’t know. I noticed because the brush didn’t glide over the surface as quickly. Since I had finished washing the model, I then took the cotton pad and wanted to remove the excess washing. This is where the disaster began.

The cotton pad dissolved almost completely and smeared with all the colors on the model. I panicked and tried to save something, but it only escalated and was no longer salvageable. I played with the idea of striping the model, but then I threw it in the trash anyway. That didn’t work at all and I can only guess what the reason was. Maybe the clear coat is not as good as I thought. No idea. Anyway, I broke a model in the test. But that’s good, because that way I didn’t destroy the big project and that’s the reason why you do a lot of small tests, so that it doesn’t end in a disaster for really important projects. Since I want to test the planks first, I will make some model with just the planks. From cardboard, very quickly built, so I do not have to invest more time. In the next test, I can then tell you exactly where the problem was.

Second Test

I found the first mistake pretty quickly. I watched the oil washes video from Black Magic Craft again and realized that I had not listened carefully1. I don’t need to apply a clear coat, except when I want to rework with acrylic paint after oil washing. But even that is not supposed to work so well. So I left the clear coat off completely in my second attempt. I also didn’t use Mod Podge this time so I could locate the flaw faster.

After I had glued eight new dungeon tiles with wooden boards made of cardboard, I primed them with simple black acrylic paint. I wanted to look here where exactly the error lies and have therefore dispensed with a primer (eg from the spray can). I decided to use the base colors brown, green and a mixture of both colors. Actually, color isn’t that important right now and I might have preferred to use garish colors, but wanted to stay as close to the guidelines I needed. I will not be painting my mad wizard’s house in neon yellow. No Wizardpunk in this project.

After all the layers dried through, I dry brushed the surfaces with a yellow ocher. In some places I also used a hard dry brush so I could see how well the colors shine through the oil wash. I’m not only interested in understanding how oil washes work, but I also want to find a good effect for the big project that I can work with later.

The application of the oil wash worked much better. The brush glided very easily over the surface of the test models and did not smear. I first used a light brown wash and in the second and last row a black wash. I wanted to see what looked better and achieved the more interesting effects. In total, I let the wash dry for ten minutes.

Since I still have no small eye shadow sponges and these come in the next few days I used this time normal toilet paper. A single layer of recycled paper, which does not tear as quickly as the great soft with three layers what we usually use. This worked very well. Unfortunately, it smudged where the oil wash was still liquid and reacted with the black acrylic paint. Also, the oil wash seemed to dry unusually fast, which could mean that I had used too much thinner for the mixture. Also, I have a hunch that an oil wash works well on plastic bits and minis, but not so well on cardboard. But this is only a vague assumption that I would have to confirm somehow.

But maybe I need to use a proper primer from the spray can to seal the pores of the cardboard. These could perhaps be the reason that the oil wash was absorbed so quickly and dried. The trials are already going in the right direction but I’m still not satisfied with the results. While the test did produce interesting effects that you can see well in the last two photos, that’s not what I want for my big project. I should put my focus on the primer. I want to achieve safe results, because I have two other complex models here that I want to provide with an oil wash and which should not be broken by unclean planning.

Third Test

Whew! Today I failed extremely hard. I also didn’t take a photo of the result because I immediately threw the model in the trash. Which model, you ask? The model I had worked on for six hours and turned out super well. The oil wash was to complete the project. I took a full risk, but it didn’t work out. I tried, but failed. My journey with oil washes doesn’t end here.

At first I wanted to use TAMIYA Liquid Thinner again, but then decided to use Nail Polish Remover, but that didn’t work a bit. The oil paint smeared as if I had mixed it with water. Apparently you can’t use acetone with oil paints. Again, learned something the hard way. So I had to remix everything again. I applied the new mixture to the model, but then couldn’t wipe that off. I could not save the model.

My assumption was that this does not work because of the wood glue, or because I used cardboard. But now I had built a kitbash terrain with hot glue and the oil wash did not work on the plastic either. Maybe it is because of my primer, this time I had tried the army painter primer in black. Or, and this can also be. It is not true that you can use oil washes with all oil paints. I got the oil paints from the dollar store and maybe there is something in there that doesn’t blend with the thinner/medium. So I will buy other primer and oil paints, because it does not seem to be my acrylic paints.

But I also realize how I am reaching my artistic limits for the first time in a very long winning streak. I make some clear mistakes and I don’t see it. There’s something I haven’t understood and it’s stressing me out, because otherwise I don’t have problems grasping artistic techniques quickly and well. Ok, that’s also good because I’m going to learn it anyway, but until now I wasn’t used to having to make an effort when I wanted to learn a new technique. This is an unfamiliar and completely new feeling. I. don’t. like. that. Still, I don’t give up because I failed three times in a row. That is art. What works for an artist makes the other one furious. I will simply learn this and then present a really good result.


  1. And here also lies the problem in my brain. Since I am quite good in the subject of colors, model making and art and have already gained some experience, my brain tells me that I know everything and listens less. This is fundamentally wrong, because you can not know everything. No matter how good you are. With eight billion people on this planet, there will still be one person who has information that you don’t know. No matter how good and informed you are on a subject. You may know a lot, but not everything. That is not technically possible. So it always helps to listen as closely as possible. Always. Every single sentence you have to understand and analyze exactly, only then you can evaluate if you already know all this information. These are careless mistakes and my Achilles heel. If I am so well versed in a topic that I can move safely in it, my brain tells me that I only have to listen conditionally because I (supposedly) already know everything.↩︎

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