In this quick miniature painting tutorial, I’ll walk you through the steps tried and tested techniques on how paint skeletons and bones with brushes, using specific brands and names of paints that I use to make my Halloween dioramas or Deathrattle Skeleton minis stand out.
Paints for painting bones and skeletons:
Aside from the bones and skeleton mini-figures, such as these skeleton soldiers for Warlord Games, the Citadel skull set or Green Stuff World’s skulls, you’ll obviously need paints. The precise colours used are largely a personal preference. Personally, I love the just-crawled-out-of-the-ground, cold, dirty look of the skeletons in Ray Harryhausen’s classic film Jason and the Argonauts (clip below) and for this and skeletons in general, the following colours and brands work well.
- Primer: Citadel Grey Seer
- Base colour: Citadel Screaming Skull, Vallejo Ivory or Reaper Bone Shadow.
- Dark wash: Citadel Agrax Earthshade or Vallejo Sepia Wash
- Highlight: Citadel Screaming Skull or Ushabti Bone
- Varnish: Vallejo Satin Varnish
Step 1: The first step to all great bone painting
The first step is to prime the bones. This will help the paint to adhere better and create a more even finish for which I use a Citdel spray primer. These are easier to get a consistent covering with, even, initial coating for the subsequent paints to grip to. It also dries the quickest but for safety when using this, a mask should be worn, see my recommendation for appropriate masks when painting if you don’t have one.
Give the minis a thin coating from around 6 inches away from the spray nozzle so as not to swamp fine detailing, and let the paint dry. I use Citadel Grey Seer, as it gives a better final result than white which can dominate subsequent base coats, while a black primer will swallow up the ivory/bone colours. Bones are also grey in colour naturally, so if you miss any parts, the grey will hide the gaps.
Step 2: Give your bones a natural look
Once the bones are primed, you can start to basecoat them, giving them a believable foundation colouring . Citadel Screaming Skull or Vellejo Ivory or Reaper Bone Shadow are great bone base colours for this. Apply an even coat with a wide brush, and be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. Get this into the recessed areas, such as eye sockets, between the ribs and joints to really make them pop.
Extra tip: Once you’ve dipped the brush into the paint, wipe it on some paper kitchen cloth to remove the excess. Too much and it’ll pool on the surface and clog small gaps, between the ribs for example.
Step 3: Add depth and dimension
Next, add some shading.
I like a cold, dirty, just emerged from the ground, look for my skeletons (as in Jason and Argonauts) so use Agrax Earthshade and Drakenhof Nightshade. Applying a mix of both (8:2 Earthshade to Nightshade) to give a dark but blue cool-ish shade using a medium rounded tip brush to control how much is deposited with each stoke,
Step 4: Bring your bones to life
Once the wash is dry, you can start to highlight the bones. Highlighting is the process of adding lighter shades of paint to the raised areas of the model to create a sense of depth which is achieved by delicately dry brushing with the paint used for the base coat (Citadel Screaming Skull in this case) or Citadel Ushabti Bone if you prefer a brighter white bone to the raised and upper edges, where light would fall.
Step 5: Add the finishing touches to your bones
If you want to add some extra details to your mini’s, you can do so at this step. I use black paint to amplify cracks and crevices and a wash to add more shading and add a white dry brushing to the teeth on skulls. You can also use a small brush to add some blood or gore to the bones, if desired (Blood for Blood God is easily the best for this).
These are the basic steps involved in painting miniature skulls and skeletons. If you want, you can seal them to protect them using a clear matt coating of Vallejo’s Satin Varnish.
With a little practice, you’ll be able to create realistic and impressive bones that will add a touch of realism to your tabletop games or dioramas.
I hope this blog post has been helpful. If you have any questions or tips for painting skeleton soldiers, please leave a comment below.
> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.