Way back when I first put paint on a horse, I used cheap craft acrylics, I think it was most likely Apple Barrel brand.
I've come a long way, learned a lot, won lots of NAN cards and even a small handful of live show championships and reserves...
... and I am still hand painting, with cheap craft acrylics.
One of these days I'd like to be brave and try other mediums (airbrush, pastels, maybe even oils), but for now, craft acrylics are still my jam.
It can be hard to find tips on how to work with them. It seems they are something a lot of people start with and then move on to other things. I never did.
Here's a quick list of pros and cons about using them:
Fast drying - you can finish an entire horse in one session, if you want to.
Cheap - usually around $1-$1.50 or so for each color
Easy to find - about any place that sells craft supplies: a dedicated craft store, or even WalMart.
Easy clean up - soap and water clean up, no need for potentially harsh chemicals
Thin with water - again, no need for chemicals
Fast drying - Yes, I listed this as a Pro as well, however: makes it hard/impossible to blend colors together on the model. There are products such as drying extenders that can slow the drying time and possibly allow for more blending, but I have not used any of them.
Can't really be sanded, can be hard to touch up smoothly if nicked
Delicate finish, easily scratched - however, a good coat or two of spray sealer fixes this and they are actually quite durable with a good clear coat over the top
Here are the tools that I use:
A horse to paint
A pallet or something to mix paint on/in
Flat toothpicks to mix paint
Paper towels, for cleaning brushes
A cup of water to rinse brushes
And of course: paint. I haven't found any issue with mixing various brands of craft acrylic together - ceramacoat, americana, folkart, apple barrel, they all seem to work together just fine.
Also helpful: instructional material, be it physical or digital (I prefer real books).
They were written for use with oil paints, but I've found that most can transfer over to acrylics, or at least offer a good starting point. Some colors don't exist in craft acrylics - like the cadmiums and so on - that's where improvising and experimentation comes in.
It's worth noting that I also have a bajillion reference pictures, both physical and digital. Good references are crucial!
A little more information on tools:
I use the makeup sponges to apply my (thin) base coats for the first time. I also use them to do dark shading over the body color, and to apply white over large areas, such as on an appaloosa. I use the triangular makeup sponges, cut down into smaller pieces, since I tend to do mostly minis. Even on larger horses, I want to work with smaller amounts of paint, so I'd still use small sponge pieces.
Here's how I cut them down:
|Cut in half.|
|Each half cut in half, lengthwise.|
After cutting the pieces down, I like to round the corners on the widest end - the one I'll be using.
|Small wedge piece on left, rounded corners on right.|
What this does is prevent harsh edges when you are applying paint and also keeps paint from building up in the corners of the sponge and being applied where you don't want it.
Along the way I've created a couple of "specialty" brushes (haha). The one on the left is a 000 that has had probably half of its bristles pulled out. It is my dedicated tiny detail brush, most often used for eyes on the mini models. On the right is a 1 that has had its bristles cut off. I use that for dry brushing, "scrubbing" paint into some areas.
Other notes on technique:
Less is more. I try to work with small amounts on paint on the model at any time.
The lighter the color of acrylic, the thicker they are. White is the thickest; it can't be used without thinning it down - I use water. Black can usually be used straight from the bottle. Keep this in mind with your mixes too, a lighter colored mix may need thinning, darker mixes may not.
Okay, enough blabbering - let's (sort of) paint a horse!
I try to feather the paint at the borders between zones; don't stop abruptly and leave a blob of paint - that can leave bumps or ridge lines when everything is dry. I do the left side first, then the right. By that time, the left side is dry and ready for another coat, and around you go.
I usually do each side and then do a pass down the back, then the chest, belly, and inside of the legs. If more is needed, then I repeat the process: left, right, top, bottom.
Here's a quick series of photos, to better describe the zones:
|Shoulder and down the outside of the front leg.|
|Barrel, feathering/fading into the back and belly.|
|A pause to show the top view.|
|Hip and rump|
|Outside of back leg|
Your piece of sponge will get soaked with paint, I like to switch out fairly often, when it seems like it's holding too much paint (even after dabbing some off) another way to check is when the pores of the sponge are getting larger. Then it's time to use a new one.
The good news is, you can actually use the same little wedge of sponge a few times. Just cut off the end,
round the corners and you're good to keep going. I generally use each piece 2-3 times this way.
One thing I forgot to mention in my preferred tools are these. I believe they are french fry trays? I bought a whole bag of them at a restaurant supply store a looong time ago, they make great disposable pallets.
The main reason I use them is below. Here I'm getting ready to do some shading. I put a bit of my paint in the corner, dab in my sponge, then dab most of the paint off. I'm sure there are many other items you can use this way, but these trays are what I like to use.
I tend to do darker shading with a sponge again, Here's a picture of some quick and dirty sponge shading on our tutorial model. Again, I'm certainly not trying to make a nice horse here, ha!
If I could reiterate one piece of advice, over and over: use SMALL amounts of paint in anything that you do. You can always add more, to make it darker or cover more of the horse. However, if you use too much, you're kind of stuck. Acrylic is not forgiving that way. Once it's on there, it's on there and there's really no way to get it back off, without messing up more of your work (I know, I've tried). If you do end up with too much paint, the best thing to do is spread it out as smooth as you can, let it dry, then paint back over it with your body color and try again.
To do the lighter shading, usually in tighter areas like the flank, behind the elbow, chest, muzzle, etc., I prefer to use a small brush, because it offers much more control in tight places. I'll dab a (tiny!) bit on and work it in.
A particular challenge (since you can't really blend acrylics on the model) is the black or dark legs on a bay or buckskin horse, particularly where the black or dark brown color fades into the body color. I have a two brush technique for doing that and it works well.
These are the brushes I use, The first one really isn't all that important, anything will do, though I do prefer a small round brush for this. The real hero of my technique is the stiff-bristled brush on the right. This is pretty much the only thing I use it for.
If I'm using straight black, I'll just work from the cap.
Here's how I hold the brushes. You don't have to do it this way, you could apply the paint with one and pick up the other, but in the interest of working fast and doing this before the paint starts to set up, this is how I do it:
What I do is dab the tip of my small round brush into the paint (small amounts, people! I know, I sound like a broken record...)
Then dab some paint onto the leg, I usually put it on the hoof to start. I don't have an actual picture of that, because as soon as it's dabbed on, I start spreading it up the leg.
Once the paint is dabbed on, I use the stiff brush to dab and work it up the leg, sort of brushing backwards.
I'll keep at this, until I have the dark color as high as I want it and (hopefully) well faded into the body color. That's not so much the case here, trying to work over a rough sponged base layer. ;)
The potential of the technique is probably much better shown off here. This is a closeup of Crown Royale, my old G1 ASB custom who still does okay in the shows. ;)