Zenithal Priming

There is a miniatures-painting technique that has become quite common these days, called zenithal priming.

It's aim is to provide a priming layer of under-painting with highlights and shadows already in place, and this is achieved quite simply.

The figure is first primed entirely in black, and then a lighter colour, usually pure white, is sprayed down on to it at a slight angle from the vertical. The areas sheltered from the spray remain black, while the upper surfaces become white, with gentle gradations of tone between them. Personally, I prefer to finish with a light over-spray of white at a much lower angle to lighten the bulk of shadows, leaving pure black only in those areas that would be completely shadowed.

The ideal tool for this is, of course, the airbrush, but it can be done with aerosol can paints. The spray cans produce a much coarser spray; the individual droplets of paint are larger, so the resulting under-painting will appear much more granular.

It can also be done entirely by hand with a brush, though of course that is a much more labour-intensive method. It's a technique that is much used by picture painters who want to establish the tonal masses of their composition before they start applying colour.

The technique really shows its value when speed-painting using transparent inks and glazes, but it's also very useful when painting with opaque colours because the tonal variation really accentuates the contours and surface details of a miniature, which makes it easier to plan and predict how paint can be applied.

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