There was a time when painting white uniforms was an occasion of pure joy. You slapped on an undercoat of black and then dry brushed with white (enthusiasts could use varying intermediate shades of grey). Flesh, facings, and various accoutrements were then added and one held up the result for the approbation of ones friends and started writing an acceptance speech for the inevitable Turner Prize.
Those were the happy days when we used Humbrol enamels. The pigments in those paints would separate from the spirit that contained them and settle at the bottom of their tins; where they could be scooped up and readily applied using dry brushing. Nowadays I use acrylics, and while I am grateful that neither I nor my house any longer smells like an oil refinery, my dry brushing has suffered as a result. I simply cannot dry brush properly using acrylics.
Left Side Treated, Right Side Untreated
The result of this is that my Imperial Infantry, sporting a uniform of the most brilliant white, look like an advert for washing powder. This might not matter if the figure I was using was of the finest quality, but it only serves to highlight the defects of my sculpting. As I am currently concluding the painting of the first company of my second Imperial infantry regiment, I have decided it is time to act.
There is a technique that is worth trying here; something I was told by an artist friend some years ago, although I have never had occasion to try it until now. My friend has since disappeared off to Canada where he no doubt spends his time fighting grizzly bears; chopping off one's ear being considered terribly passée among contemporary artists. But fortunately the technique is a simple one and can be used by normal people unaffected by such sinister places as Art Colleges. Indeed, my friend told me that it originated with none other than Peter Gilder.
The method uses a touch of Humbrol gloss black mixed into a pot of Humbrol clear gloss polyurethane varnish (and yes I do appreciate the irony in the choice of saviour). The quantity of gloss black used is left to the user's discretion: I simply plunged a thin piece of bamboo into the gloss black and then mixed that into the pot of gloss varnish. I suppose the correct prescription would be 'add to taste', the key being that you can always add more, but cannot take it back out. I would also add the advice that you paint the pot's lid with some black, so that you don't use it on other tasks where normal, untreated varnish is intended.
The resultant concoction is used in place of normal varnish: as it dries it will tend to pool in places where shadows are supposed to form, creating subtle effects for no real effort. In my case the figure does not give many opportunities for that to occur, but it does at least tone down the brilliant white to a more acceptable shade. I am not sure yet if I have added sufficient black to have as great an impact as I want: but this is a decision that is worth taking time over.