Thursday, January 21, 2021

A beginner's guide to painting model horses

NaMoPaiMo is an event for painters of all skill levels, including those who have never held a paintbrush. Today's post is written for people who will be painting a model horse for the first time. 
Model horses come in a variety of scales and materials, all of which are acceptable choices for NaMoPaiMo. Breyers are probably the most popular, and for good reason. They are detailed, sturdy, affordable and easily obtainable  online and at toys stores, big box stores and tack stores. This nice pair of classic (1:12) scale Breyers retails for about twenty dollars a piece.
Before the model is painted, it should be prepped and primed. Prepping refers to removing the model's molding seams, usually with fine grit sandpaper. While not strictly required, this will result in a more polished final project. 
The seams can be found along the model's midline, in the chest area and down the front and back of each leg. Older models - like this foal - often have very prominent seams.
New Breyers are a different story. If you look carefully, you might see the seams on this mustang's chest, but they are not obvious.
Once the seams have been removed, the model is ready to be primed. Unlike prepping, this is an essential step. The primer bonds tightly to the plastic and provides a good painting surface. Without it, your paint is likely to peel or flake off. Personally, I prefer Tamiya Fine Primer, which can be found at hobby shops and is designed to preserve detail on miniatures, but other artists have good results with various other brands. No matter what you use, be sure to shake the can thoroughly and spray the model outside from at least six inches away. Several light coats are preferable to one heavy, drippy coat!
In addition to providing a good painting surface, primer is also really good at revealing areas that need further prepping. In this case, I definitely missed that big seam on the underside of this horse's head! Once the primer has fully cured, you can go back and finish the prepping. It generally takes several rounds of prepping and priming to achieve a perfectly prepared canvas.
Most Breyers will have a hole in the corner of their mouth. This prevents bloating due to the build up of hot air inside the hollow model. Because it is somewhat unsightly, many artists will fill this hole with epoxy. If you choose to go that route, be sure to drill a new hole in a less conspicuous place (usually the groin area).
Once the model is prepped and primed, it's time to start painting. The four most common mediums for painting model horses are hand painted acrylics, pastels/pigments, airbrushed acrylics and oils. For the purposes of this article, we're going to concentrate on the first two, since they are the most beginner friendly. 

Acrylic paints can be found at big box stores like Target or Walmart, craft stores like Michaels or Joann Fabrics or art supply stores. Prices range from just seventy nine cents a bottle...
to significantly more than that.
Both kinds of paint can work, but the more expensive paint has a much higher pigment to filler ratio.
Here's what the means in regards to painting a model. There are two layers of Craft Smart on the model's neck and shoulders and two layer of Golden on the barrel and flank. The craft paint is streakier and less opaque and requires more layers to achieve good coverage. 
No matter what paint you use, it's important to apply it sparingly. If you load up your paintbrush like this...
you will create a big, streaky mess with brush strokes you can feel.
You will achieve much better results using small amounts of paint. Even this is almost too much!
Pastels and pigments are another popular medium for beginning model horse artists. These can be found at craft and art stores. I prefer high quality, pre-powdered brands such as Earth Pigments and Pan Pastels. Stick pastels can also be used, but must first be shaved into powder with an X-acto knife.
The powders are applied to the model with a paintbrush or q-tip and sealed into place with a clear, aerosol sealer. 
Pastel models typically require many layers to build up color and shading. This graph shows two and then four layers of pastels applied over a gold acrylic basecoat. 
Although pastels are great for producing shaded body colors, they're nearly impossible for details such as eyes. Most artists will switch to acrylics for the finishing touches.
After the model is painted, it should be signed and sealed. Testor's Dullcote - which can be found at hobby and craft stores or online though Amazon - is the most popular sealer in the hobby. However, other clear sealers - such as Krylon or Mister Super Clear - are also commonly used. The application process is much like that of the primer. Shake the can thoroughly, go outside and spray multiple light coats from at least six inches away.
Allow the sealer to cure thoroughly, gloss the eyes and hooves (I use Liquitex gloss medium) and that's it! I hope everyone has a happy and successful NaMoPaiMo.


  1. Thank you so much for this, Jennifer. Although I've entered NaMo before, I really didn't know what I was doing, even with much help and encouragement from my daughter. Having read this, I'm sure I will enjoy the experience more this year

    1. I wish I had thought to write this sooner. There are so many things long time hobbyists consider common knowledge that really aren't.

  2. Don't forget to wash the model and air dry before the primer step :)

  3. Sand off the logo too! I've bought a few customs lately which still have the logo on and it bugs me!

    1. I did sand off the mold marks on the two classic horses, but I forgot to take a picture of that.

    2. Sorry that wasn't aimed at you Jennifer, just general advice for anyone starting out. It's so easy to forget some of these little steps

  4. So basically I'd have to sand off the seams and logo and paint over the OF paint? Then prime the horse before and after re painting? I have a stablemate foal that I'd like to customize because I don't like his eye color and his coat color.

    1. Yes, you should sand the seams and logo and prime. Then paint. When it's done, finish with a clear finishing spray.