Wednesday 7 March 2012

A horse of a different colour part 9 - finally, we get to paint!

A batch of Saxon Duguth cavalry horses (largely from
Wargames Factory) ready undercoated. Assuming they
come out OK, expect some pictures next time!
So here we are, with what WAS going to be the last article in the 'A horse of a different colour' series, in which we finally get to apply some paint to miniatures. It would have been nice to have wrapped this series up with my 100th post (which this is!) but as usual, I seem to have too much to say for one post....

A note: as I said in the previous post, I'm not going into highlight/shadow colour detail here - if you're good enough, and have enough time, to use the Foundry three colour system or similar, you're good enough to work out what colours you need. In general, what I describe for a colour is somewhere between the main and highlight colour, since I'll be dipping or washing the end result.

So, onwards. And first, undercoat.
This will, no doubt, be as big a subject for debate as any other, but my view is that, with a few isolated exceptions. I will undercoat all horses black - usually spray Army Painter Matt Black. Why? because a horse's skin, under the coat, is pretty much always black, except under areas of actually white (not grey) coat. I know some folks use a red-brown, or similar shade, but my personal preference is for black, and most definitely not white. (White's just a pain - it always takes me two coats to get a decent brown on top of it). And I cannot emphasise enough - grey horses have dark skin.

The only exceptions to this are dominant whiteshorses with a double CR gene and anything else with naturally light/pink skin, which I would suggest undercoating in flesh pink, such as Army Painter Barbarian Flesh now they've started making it again, or for the double CR horses something a shade darker if you can find it.

Next, decide on your horse's white markings, if any, then dig out a flesh colour (Citadel Dwarf Flesh or similar), and paint (effectively re-undercoat) the areas which will have white markings (note, again, white not grey) with a reasonably thick coat - enough to hide the black. Basically what we're talking about here is any white socks, facial markings (blazes, stars etc), and the white areas on coloured horses.

OK. Now we have, for all practical purposes, a naked, hairless horse (eww) undercoated in the base skin colour(s). Time to add the coat.


Some of the range of red/brown shades on a bay or
chestnut horse.
Let's start with the common ones - 'brown' horses (yes, I know, no such thing as a brown horse. See. You were paying attention). Bays and chestnuts range from almost red-brown through to a very dark shade. If I have a lot of horses to do, I tend to make up a palette, with several of Citadel's darker brown shades on it, including Bestial Brown, Scorched Brown, Dark Flesh and some Chaos Black so I can darken them, and then mix a range of shades from those. Run a Google image search for "bay horse" (or "chestnut horse") for an idea of the range of colours, and markings.

Now you've chosen a shade, apply it to the black undercoated areas. For a bay, don't paint the mane and tail (three-colour aficionados can dry brush a very dark brown highlight on here!), and sort of feather the brown into the black undercoat around the knee/hock (except on white socks). For a chestnut, do paint the mane and tail, (even if you're going to go flaxen later, as it'll provide a better undercoat for a flaxen mane than the original black) and carry the brown right down to the hooves (barring any white socks, of course).

If the horse doesn't have a white muzzle, feather the brown into the undercoat around the nostrils and lips, and then, if you're feeling like more detail, make the black of the muzzle a greyer shade.


Personally, I'm lazy, and let the undercoat and the slight shading of the dip do the job for me here. If you're less lazy than me, black horses are really a very very dark brown - it is possible to confuse a very dark bay for a black - so take one of your browns and add a smidgeon of it to black, and paint away as above.

Flaxen manes and tails on chestnut horses

This is one of the few cases where even I break out a dry brush! Easiest way is to dry brush some Bleached Bone or similar atop the brown you already painted the mane and tail.

White markings (and patches on coloured horses)

Now take some white paint, and do the white markings and areas. If the white on the horse's face extends to the muzzle, feather it into the pink undercoat around the nostrils and lips.


If the leg is brown or black, the hoof should be a darker shade, possibly with a hint of khaki. If the leg/foot is white, the hoof should be a shade of khaki - Citadel Kommando Khaki looks fine.

Ok. That covers the majority of horses (mostly bay, remember?) as well as piebalds and skewbalds. However, I think this post is way past long enough now, so join me next time for what will be part the tenth and last, covering painting greys, duns, roans and other oddities.


  1. Great guide (and I must admit to having enjoyed reading all the previous posts in the series). I might try this method on a future batch of horses to see how it compares to my current method (based on Simon MacDowall's).

    This series has made me realise that my colour mix has far too many outliers, although blacks bays and chestnuts probably do account for about 60-70% of the total.

    1. Sweet :D

      The one thing to be aware of, I think, is that colours on black tend to go down a bit darker, and if you're dipping they'll probably darken again, so it's worth being pretty bold with your colour choice until you've seen how it lays down on the undercoat.

  2. Personally (and this is just my opinion) trying to be too 'realistic' on horses doesn't always work, IMHO. All my 'brown' horses that have black manes, tails, etc, have grey highlights on the black as it stands out better to my eyes on the tabletop. Ok, for magazine 'Dallimore-esque' photos, I agree wholeheartedly with full-on realism approach.

    I found getting the pinkish muzzle shade impossibly impossible, years ago, so never bother now... (lazy? me?)

    I use Foundry paints for horses, whether layering or dipping, as the variety of useable 'browns' is staggering...

    Best of luck to anyone who tries to get horses 'right' as I reckon it is REALLY hard (and there speaks a chap who can 3-layer with [most of] the best of 'em...)

    Good article though, Mike... I now know which of my horses are right and which aren't...most fall into the latter category!!! :-)

    1. *chuckle*

      Have to say, you're not on the list of folks I'd presume to teach how to paint :D

      To be honest, this series has kind of grown - I mostly started it because it's a topic I did do quite a lot of research into, and even if all you do is get the *basics* right (all together now, "Mostly bays"!) and perhaps understand why and how horse colours happen, we'll see fewer regiments of plain brown single colour horses with no markings :D

  3. Looking forward to your next post Mike!!!

  4. Good timing! I've just cracked open my latest purchase:

    1. But there's hardly any horse to paint there - it's all armour!

    2. I think David might have hit on the secret of getting horses right - only paint horses that are armoured! ;)

  5. I have a big batch of about 50 Norman knights to put together and paint. I shall be following what you do with your horses with great interest (some guidance on the paint syou use would be great too). They are 2nd or 3rd on my painting list, so I should have time to absorb the advice you give before starting. I am no great shakes at painting and will be 'dipping', so the base colours will need to take the dip well. These are great articles, thank you very much for sharing.
    Little Odo


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