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"Robin Hood" Tutorial with Nicholas Ball

A General Guide to Painting Flats

In these following articles, I will try to describe how I go about painting flat figures. There are by far a lot of better painters than I, but I hope this guide will help you in understanding some of the issues I encounter and how I try to deal with them, although as they say ‘we all learn something new every day’ and that includes me.

One of the most important lessons is Patience! We all have our good days and bad. When it comes to bad, take a few moments, then walk away! And come back to it later; it’s far better to avoid a disaster than to have to correct one, and believe me, I’ve had my fair share of them.

I will start with the very basics, from brushes to mediums and I will try to explain what they are and why I use them.

This guide is for oil paints, as this is the medium I use.

Cleaning up flats.

For this I use a scalpel, mainly to scrape the edges, then a miniature file (on heavy parts) and finally an emery covered foam board file. Emery cloth (black) rather than sandpaper (yellow) is used in the motor industry, and has the advantage as it can be wetted with water, which in turn stops the paper from getting clogged with metal filings, this makes filing a lot easier and contains the filings in the water so they don’t fly all over the workbench.

Once clean, I use a matt white, acrylic, spray primer in a tin. This gives a very smooth finish. Before spraying, hold the can under a hot tap and constantly shake until the can feels warm in the hand. This thins the paint and will stop any of that annoying splattering. Three very fine spray coats, in all directions over a period of 15 to 20 minutes are applied, allowing the paint to dry between each coat. One important point to note here: if you think you have applied too much paint and filled in the detail, Don’t Panic!!! Place the figure completely flat, and leave it!! As the paint has been thinned, the excess will eventually evaporate away, revealing all the lost detailing again. Once you are happy with the result, leave it 12 hours to totally cure. If you apply thinners and paint too soon, it will lift the primer, or in most cases the paint just won’t stick!

Mediums, Paint and brushes etc.

Mediums are an additive to the paint that helps with flow, binding and thinning. There are many types, but I use only 3.


Sansador is a chemically modified solvent, like white spirit or turpentine. However being modified, and in small doses, it tends to help bind the paint together. It can however, in large doses, still be used to clean brushes, and with reds and blues, which have strong staining powers, seems to work much better than just the white spirit / turpentine solvents.

Distilled turpentine

A refined version of Turpentine, which thickens on exposure to air. When used with oil paint, not only does it thin it but it also helps keep the creamy consistency required. Because of this, it’s a better alternative to white spirit.

However unlike Sansador, it does smell and the room should be ventilated.

Liquin original.

This is an oily based medium, suitable for decreasing the drying time (50%) and for fine detailing, as it increases flow. It also gives durability and flexibility to the paint. Highly suited for glazing, but may increase gloss if too much is used.

I tend to use a small dip of liquin to a small dip of Sansador/distilled turpentine to overcome this problem. To glaze, use a large dip of liquin to a pool of sansador, this makes the paint thin but still bound together (a thin coloured oil)

Oil Paints

I will go into more detail on how I apply the paints later in the articles when I start painting a figure.

I now use Michael Harding oil paints. Why? Because they are exceptionally good! They are approx. 30% more concentrated than any other maker as they have not been diluted with additional binder. This makes them creamier, so it’s easier to blend and their staining power is far greater, especially useful if you need to just colour the primer coat. There are, as with all paints, 3 grades, Transparent, semi–opaque and opaque (non Transparent). These need to be carefully noted when applying, as although the transparent are good for blending by applying over the top as a film, they are not much good if you need a block of hard colour to work onto, (unless you want to build up 3 or 4 coats, which is time consuming). For this I would generally use a Humbrol base colour of the same tone.


After a lot of patience, practice, and errors, I now use only two types of brushes.

These are probably the biggest ‘bones of contention’ we will all disagree on, but after getting a bad batch of expensive Winsor and Newton series 7, I have turned to Da Vinci instead. They are cheaper than W+N, but appear to last a lot longer. I use the Acrylic round brushes series 10 Maestro. They keep their point, even after the abuse I give them (stippling!!) and as an added bonus they do a 10/0 which is excellent for very, very fine detail. Once used, I clean and repoint them. Every week or so I will wash them in a brush cleaner. For most work, I find that a no.1 or 0 are best; they can do fine work as well as smaller block painting. No 2 has rather long tips and tends to be less controllable.

The other brushes I use, are a cheap Proart no.1 flat brush, this is used for laying down large areas or to lightly remove brush marks and for fine blending. These are the softest I have found, specifically so I don’t leave brush marks.


My main pallet is just an ordinary white porcelain dish, split into 4 sections. This way I can paint different areas at the same time, without cross contamination. Should the paint be a bit watery, I will put some onto a piece of blotting paper (art drawing paper) or towel, and after the excess binder has drained off I will transfer it to the pallet.

I will then add the mediums as described earlier and start painting.


I do not hold the piece as I like to support my wrist (as if one were drawing) therefore I use a small board at approx. 45 degrees. As I also display in photo frames, I only paint one side. I am currently working on an adjustable easel with a turntable so I can paint the figure at any angle.

Drying Box

To help the paint dry and take any un-wanted gloss off the figure, I have made a drying box out of a wooden bread bin and a light bulb attachment. This works exceptionally well, and will hold up to 5 or 6 figures. A 4 hour period will dry the figure for next day’s painting session.

Well that’s the main run through of the equipment, in the next journal I will start painting a figure and go through step by step my painting methods.

Robin Hood, Part 2

by Nicholas Ball

In the last Journal I described how I intended to paint the Robin figures, so here we go.


Now, I’ve seen all those films,- The hills have eyes, Don’t go into the Woods today, etc. etc. and the one thing they all seem to have in common is that the ‘hill billies’ all have a darkish complexion from being out in the sun all day. Now, it might not seem like it, but we do get approx. 2 days of fine weather a year here in the UK, so our trusty little hobos would more than likely be a bit olive in colour, so this is what I will do.

I started with a transparent, Rowney Flesh oil colour, which has a brownish tinge to it, and I carefully applied it to all the faces and arms. The first coat is put on and brushed carefully away so the paint is only in the deeper shadow areas. The idea at this stage is just to stain the base white primer and bring out the shadow areas.

Once dry (next day – after 4 hours in the drying box) I then went over all the flesh again. To make the transparent Flesh paint opaque, I just added a small amount of Titanium White. I then went over all the areas again, making sure that the deeper parts were still darker.

The next stage is the Shadow areas and for this I put on a thin coat of Red Umber and ‘spread’ it out very thinly into the shadow areas.

Now it is at this point, I need to review things!! Whilst putting paint on Will Scarlett’s head, I forgot to use my trusty shield and wiped off most of the colour from Friar Tucks head!! I think I will paint from top to bottom after all, and go over all the flesh at the end!!!

Robin Hood

I wanted to use a ‘bright green’ shade and therefore decided that Sap Green was the one for me. Again as with the flesh I put on three thin layers, building it up into the darker areas as I went. It is surprising how one colour can be used for highlight, mid tone and shadow area. Keeping it all to a very ‘pure’ colour. Once dry, I then added a small amount of Payne’s Grey to the Sap Green for the deeper shadows and yellow for the highlights. All very bright and cheery. At the same time I went on to his hood and leggings. The base colour is actually a burnt orange (Transparent Red Ochre) and again, the 3 Layer rule is used, and finally Burnt Umber and a touch of Red Ochre with white for the highlights.

By adding White a faded look to the material colour is achieved.

The bow would have been yew wood, so I used various shades of yellow ochre, highlighting with White. The bow string is Paynes Grey, and the leather grip Indian Red.

As I wanted him to be the Earl of Loxley, I found his family crest and painted it onto his scabbard and Quiver. The Quiver itself and his belt straps are Burnt Umber with Raw Umber shadows. The tooled leather is Gold Ochre mixed with White. Final highlighting to this is nearly pure White. I have to admit here, that it took me 4 attempts, just to get the shield heraldry right!! An important note on this– Let the paint dry fully before correcting, I always go over mistakes with fresh paint; I never strip it back. I find that on small areas if I did strip (yes I do learn from previous mistakes! – In fact I have so many, I’m surprised I actually finish a figure at all! ) then the quite-not-removed paint tends to leave ruts and flaky edges!!

Robins shirt is just White and Grey (Black/White) shading of various depths.

I did note that Vladimir had engraved Robin with rather thin boots, and on looking up ‘medieval riding boots’ on the internet, I came across a boot that was of rather loose leather but tied tight to the leg by a long wrap around strips of leather

So I have tried to represent these in some sort of a fashion!

Will Scarlet

As already mentioned, he was a young man, supposedly Robin’s Nephew, from a well-heeled and affluent background who liked his fine clothing. In some stories he is described as a bit of a ‘Dandy’ so I have tried to represent this in the colours and embroidery of his clothing.

The main item to try to represent was obviously the ‘Scarlet Jerkin’ from which he gets his name. I did not want to show this as a very Bright Red, as I did not feel this was suitable if you were trying to hide in a Green Forest!! And I also wanted to embroider it somewhat with a fine pattern, which is why I went for the Crimson with a Scarlet side panel tied with lace. It actually turned out better than I thought. Shading is with Raw Umber. There is no highlight on the Crimson, so that the pattern dominates, but I have used a touch of Chrome Orange on the Scarlet. The pattern is basically very small random dots of bright Red, Green, Blue and Gold Ochre. His cape is Viridian Green with Payne’s Grey shading, and a small repeat pattern in Yellow Ochre, again highlighted with White. The inside panel, was going to be fur, but as I added the shading this got a bit lost in translation, so I gave up!! Personally I think it has worked out better anyway.

I also wanted to give him a white shirt, but to make it different from Robins, I shaded it with Gold Ochre and Burnt Umber

Gold Ochre is a great colour, unlike yellow ochre which has a greenish tinge; Gold Ochre has a yellow base, so creates a better pure cream colour when mixed with White. It is also better as a highlight on gold items.

His hair is Blonde, so various shades of Yellow Ochre and Gold Ochre were used with Burnt Umber shadows. Just for reference, I shade yellows with a Burnt Umber, being a red tinge, and reds or browns with Raw Umber, as it is more of a black brown.

As I did not want to use a pure red for his trousers, I mixed up an equal amount of Payne’s Grey, Scarlet Red and a touch of White (a light plum colour). Again on with the 3 layer rule, so they did not get too dark. Final shading was done with more Payne’s Grey and highlights with White. When highlighting larger flat areas I tend to put a bit more paint on the brush and then swirl it on to the area ( a bit like polishing a car ) this tends to create swirly colours so the base colour shows through the thinner areas of the swirls. I think it gives a bit more of a textured look, but don’t overdo it. I then use a very soft flat brush to even out the effect.

His boots are Red Umber with a Raw Umber/ White mixed top. His Belt straps are the same as Robin’s.

Little John

At this point, I was going to give Little John a Beige shirt, so I put in the basic colour, but I thought it all looked a bit washed out, so I changed it to Olive Green. This is where I ran into a bit of trouble, as Michael Harding doesn’t make this colour so I had to use Winsor and Newton paint. It is rather a transparent colour, and took me 4 coats to build up a base. His hood is Naples Yellow and his leggings have a base colour of Naples Yellow + White, to keep it all uniform. Still not being happy with the Olive Green, I went over it with a Michael Harding, Italian Green Umber. I shaded it yet again in a mix of Payne’s Grey and Italian Green Umber. The hood is shaded with a mix of Raw Umber and Naples Yellow. His belts are black, just to give a different look to the other two, and I kept his Scabbard plain. The stripes on his leggings are again Sap Green, to tie the whole figure all together.

Do bear in mind; his thighs are wider than his shins, so the stripes should be slightly further apart at the top. I didn’t, so I had to correct them!!!

His boots are just Black with a Raw Umber top.


It is at this point, that I decided I could be let loose on the Flesh, without putting my grubby paws all over the place and wiping it off again with the inside of my little finger!!

As I said, they would have a fair tan, so I mixed up a basic flesh of Transparent Gold, Red Umber and White. After laying this in, I added Burnt Umber for the Shadows and White for the highlight. This is all built up over 2 to 3 sessions, until I felt it looked OK. The only exception, being Friar Tuck, who had Scarlett Lake Red added to his cheeks, giving him an ‘English Rose’ look.

I did feel that Vladimir’s engraving of Little John’s face was a bit odd around the lower nose area, so I dragged the beard out to try to give it a more of an even look. As it is, it does seem to have done the trick.

Friar Tuck

Friar Tuck is rather easy, or so I thought when I started, as he’s just plain Brown! But as they say, never take anything for granted. I painted a base colour of Transparent Gold so it would show through the Burnt Umber overcoat on the highlighted areas. I did not want to use White, as this would fade the colour out too much. Again I kept adding Burnt umber to the Shadows with the deepest shadows having a tiny bit of Black added to the Burnt Umber. The Cross was Grey with White highlights to make it appear silver, and a small gold stone was added in the middle. This was originally going to be a Ruby, but I liked the plainness of the Gold, so stopped before I messed it up!! (Well that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!)

I gave him wristbands to represent him being a fine Archer, but Vladimir had intended him to be wearing a long sleeved undershirt.

The mace is of Byzantine design, with grooves running along its length and a plain Ash wooden handle. His shoes are Burnt Sienna

Well there you are, a brief run down on how I go about things. One mistake a minute really!! But that’s how we learn and improve for the next figure. Although at my age, I am rather pleased I have written it down, because I would only otherwise forget!

I hope you have enjoyed reading this and hopefully have found it interesting and informative. The figure itself is excellently engraved and is a delight to paint. I look forward to seeing many more.

Until next time…………. Nicholas

Thanks, Nick.

Thanks also to Jerry Mortimore for sending these articles for the study on “Robin Hood.” This should serve as an example of the kind of articles you get when you are a member of the International Flat Figure Society. Check out their site here.

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