Freehand painting, is using a painted figure, or more often part of a painted figure, as
a canvas for enhancing details on such figures.
It can be a simple pattern, building up to more sophisticated details such as those
present on shields (antique and medieval era .) or garment ( samurais, noblemen...)
It is generally used to improve your painting, adding rich details, and making unique
figures out of commercial figs.
This particular painting technique is not entirely reserved for historic figures, and has
recently led to beautifully decorated fantastic subjets, creating a new style of painting
You can find them as tatoos on skin , as garnment on clothes, heraldics and so on .
More advanced painters can even paint "freehand " on the whole figure leading to
very complex subjects for both historical and fantastic creations .
Freehand can improve a lot the final aspect of your figure, and it is not as difficult as
it looks ! But it does take practice .
Being an historical painter (although I have recently had a go at a few fantastic figs ),
my freehand work has so far been reserved to historical subjects, and mostly middle
age era, from heraldry to garment patterns .
I have only been painting figs seriously for about 5 years, and before doing so , my
figs were "colored" rather than "painted".
Throughout those 5 years, I tried to gradually develop a particular technique based
on slowly building up the disired pattern in a very disciplined process.
I must admit i have always been in great admiration to those professional russian
painters, coming mostly from The St Petersberg school, such as russian Vityas, which
I discovered in shows. ( we will leave behind the anachronism and historical faults, as
russian Vityas 's main goal is to please the eye )
Painting figs is great, but looking in more deeply in what has been painted before,
one can find that almost eveything has been made or painted in the last decade.
Today, more emphasis seems to come from freehand and texture painting .
In order to find my own way, which I did very gradually, I started adding small
details on my painted figs, and enjoying that process, decided that it was something
pleasant to the eye, and most important , enjoyable for meto paint .
Complex freehand takes time to accomplish, and needs a lot of patience and
A good advice is to start with simple subjects (like a roman shield for example )
before going into more complicated painting .
I sometimes spend hours on researching decent patterns, avoiding obvious historical
A good example is the time I spent researching a nice pattern for my "Ivan the terrible
" which did look correct for a russian garment .
I will not go into color theory, as many will do much better than me in that area, but I
tend to limit myself to 3 main colors (not counting very dark hues or white ),
The same is true for heraldics and other ideas .
One must understand that a decent looking pattern is built up gradually, with
long drying periods to avoid damaging the whole process .
practice makes perfect !
If you think that i can start painting straight off my freehand, your are mistaking...
I always practice first, taking into account size, colors used, randomness, volume of
The first tries always look awful . And gradually you get the hang of what you want
to achieve, and if it is actually possible to paint ,
I am an "oil painter" (bit of an old school !) , but most of what is said here is common
to both oil and acrylic paint .
base coat ; essential before starting off !
The shadows and highlights must be accentuated, as they will tend to fade out after
the freehand is laid out .
Very carefull complete drying must be checked for , before starting painting freehand.
I usually wait for at leat 72 hours before starting to paint on top of my base coat ( a
main disadvantage for oil paint !)
Before starting ; of course , you must practice as I said earlier, and you must also be
able to use your brush correctly.
Both wrists firmly held on your workbench, in order to find the best way to old the
brush which will give us the best stability possible .
You need to have a constant stroke, not too slow in order to achieve the best and even
thin lines. You can practice this on anything in order to get a steady line.
If the brush stroke is too slow, you will get a lot of faults .
You must get proper dilution (liquid yogourt ) in order to have a very thin layer of
Sometimes I use both my hands to stabelize the brush which means that the fig or
horse have to be supported
I also like to have a gentle pulling motion with the tip at about 45 degrees.
getting started ; I usually start painting thin guide lines, which I mark with properly
diluted paint. For some reason, I prefer using burn umber, because it covers well,
dries fast and can easily be wiped of with white spirit when necessay ( quite often for
me ! )
correct brush ; frequently, I get asked if I have a magical paint brush in my
what counts the most is the quality of the tip : use your best tip.
My favourite brushes are Winsor and Newton series 7 brushes (long or short and not
smaller than 0, otherwise it does not hold enough paint )
I only use the tip of the brush, with a small quantity of paint, which means that I have
to "reload" my brush frequently with paint .
At this stage deleting the paint with WS is very easy, especially if the base coat is
Once again I insist on the paint consistency
having good support points for your wrists
perfectly dry undercoat.
I used a simple "point" technique. I make sure the points are correctly in line using
some masking tape . (Tamyia is great because it is gentle with the undercoat ) .
When my network of points seems OK to the eye, I then can start building the pattern
gradually, always using diluted paint .
In order to have a symetrical pattern, an appropriate template can be made of a little
plastic sheet and used to give the correct distance between the points.
This comes in very handy to get balanced freehand pattern like on fleurs de lys for
I have built up a dozen of little templates of various sizes over the past months .
The pattern is built up gradually, checking for correct position on each fleurs de Lys
with the template as shown on the picture .
There is another difficulty, and that concerns the folds .
You sometimes have to cheat because the folds never fall wright.
You need some practice to use the folds to your advantage, so that the eye does not
notice any faults, and that all the freehand seems to fit the folds correctly .
I start off by painting 2 very mall dots, then a third one in the middle, allowing me to
paint a small line, This is repeated, taking care of having the correct between each
line, Once the whole vertical pattern is painted, I. do the same horizontally at about
2/3 1/3 of the length . Then I can start building up the fleur de Lys .
Above you can see what you can eventually manage to get to, with a pleasant result.
This complicated heraldry does take time, but the final result leaves you with a
unique and original piece , instead of having to reproduce the box art .
Thanks for you interest, and don't forget that the most difficult with freehand painting
, is getting started !
For further questions, you can contact me through my blog or by FB.