Monday, January 5, 2015

Tutorial - Painting Tablescapes Urban Streets

I’ve been asked by a number of people how I painted my Tablescapes tiles so I thought that I would provide a fairly basic tutorial as to the methodology I used. The thought of undertaking the project was something that I was dreading as I thought that to achieve good results it would be time-consuming and require skills outside my fairly limited abilities. Most tellingly, I thought I’d need advanced airbrush techniques to get a good result.

However, that didn’t prove to be the case. Overall, the process was fairly quick and the skills required were all straightforward. Importantly, I managed to finish the tiles to what I thought was a very pleasing standard without breaking out the airbrush (I remain petrified of mine – yes, I know I need to learn to use it – this year, perhaps). I think a skilled airbrush user could really go to town.

First, up the tiles are very well detailed. I had a set of 16 Urban Streets "Clean" tiles and another 16 Urban Streets "Damaged" tiles. This allows me to create 6’ x 4’ tables with a variety of damage levels. I wanted to do all the tiles together to ensure that they were colour compatible.

Stage One – Spray

The first stage was to undercoat/prime all the tiles. I use Matt Black spray bought from the local DIY for around $9 a can. The job took two and a half cans and that involved the initial coat plus touch where coverage was patchy.

At the same time I purchased the black primer I picked up four cans of grey paint (two of each shade). These were advertised as having twice the coverage of normal sprays and were a relative bargain at $11 each. Both greys were a mid-shade – one lighter and the other darker. The lighter colour was sprayed over all pavement/concourse areas. It was important to get it uniform as some variation was desirable. I’m guessing about one full can was used. The whole process took about 60 minutes.

Stage Two – Brush

One of the problems when you are using DIY shop sprays is that there is only limited colour variation. With the two greys I had selected I had exhausted the colour palette! So that meant I needed to find an alternative.

Generally when you look at roadways you’ll find the actual road surface is darker than the surrounding pavement. Therefore I needed to find a dark grey. Luckily we have a local paint chain "Resene" who provide test pots for their entire range. I generally use these when I am painting terrain as it is a much cheaper alternative to using GW paints.

Finding a nice dark grey I painted all the roads with a brush. I made sure that where there were cracks I left the black showing through.

Taking the darker of my grey sprays, I then did a light overspray of the road areas, making sure that there was quite a lot of variation in the coverage.
Overall this process was about 30 minutes.

Stage Three – Over-Spray & Mask

This next stage is really straightforward but produces great results. First, you need to dig out some non-absorbent cardboard – old CCG cards are good for this. Then you make a mask that is exactly the size of one of the squares on the tile. Make sure you build up the outside so that you have plenty of protection from overspray.

You then use this mask over each of the tile squares, lining it up to the square in question. Using the darker grey spray you over-spray your lighter colour. The key here is to be very light and only do part of each square (leaving the lighter colour on the rest of the tile).You also mix up which part of each square you do to introduce pattern variation.

For the pavement squares a slightly bigger mask was required. Again, all it required was to tape together some more CCGs.

I was lucky and roped Jack in to do this for me (thanks!). It took him less than two hours to do the squares for the full 32 tiles (some had 64 squares, some had 4).

So by this stage most of the base coat work has been done and we are now onto detail.

Stage Four – Metal

All the metal areas were repainted black with a basecoatingbrush and then painted in Boltgun Metal. I washed the metal with some Nuln Oil.

Time – approximately 30 minutes

Stage Five – Road Markings

To break up the roads I thought that I would add double yellow lines to all the straight sections. Jack and I discussed whether to put on Pedestrian Crossings but my view was that by the 31st Millennium crossings would be a bit passé!

This is where I hit the first real problem. I tried to make a reusable mask with masking tape and plasticard but the tape was just two wide and lifting slightly when I tried to spray it. In the end I went to another method and applied a separate mask to each tile individually. This required a trip to the local hobby shop to get their thinnest tape plus some low tack painter tape – total cost $10. Rather than spray the lines, I stippled them which allowed me to represent wear and tear. I used a GW Base paint "Averland Sunset" which though giving good coverage did require two coats to achieve the final result.

In this case, the work took another 60 minutes.

Stage Six – Oil Wash

To tie the board in all together and pick out the detail you need to "wash" the surface. I tossed up whether I would do an acrylic wash or an oil wash, spending time reading through various tutorials. In the end I went with the oil wash as I felt it would give a superior result. One thing you need to do prior to washing the board is give it a coat of gloss varnish. This protects the acrylic paint – primers in particular are susceptible – and allows you the capability to remove some of the wash if you get it wrong. I bought a couple of cans of gloss varnish for $10 each.

I made my wash with some artist’s turpentine and some Burnt Umber oil paint. I made it fairly dilute as I didn’t want to mask the patchwork effect on the paving or obscure the road markings too much. After making sure the gloss varnish was completely dry, I used a 1.5" brush to apply the wash making sure it got into all the cracks.

This stage took 30 minutes. I was happy with the result so did not have to remove any excess.

Stage Seven – Acrylic Wash

I decided at this stage I would add in an extra step that I hadn’t initially envisaged. This was using a "2" brush to apply an acrylic wash of "Nuln Oil" to all the cracks on the roads and concourses as well as picking out the edges of each paving slab. The reasoning here was to emphasise the detail and introduce a slightly darker wash colour to selected areas i.e. cracks.

This was time consuming and took me a total of about three hours. It consumed a full pot of "Nuln" ($7) however I felt it was worth it given the achieved result. By now I am up to 8.5 hours but can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Stage Eight – Rubble

The damaged tiles are pockmarked with craters, lifted roading, rubble piles and blast scars/tears in the asphalt. Here I went to work with mix of GW colours, some old Resenetestpots and MIG Weathering Powders to create a rubble effect. The great thing is that if you are unhappy you just dollop on more variation to get to something that looks good. In between layers, I made up a couple of washes using Secret Weapon Miniatures Concrete and another using their Armour Wash and GW Agrax. This stage took about two and a half hours.

Stage Nine – Varnish

Things were now largely complete. I took the tiles back to the garage, laid them out on newspaper and gave them a coat of gloss varnish. I then used some Army Painter Anti-Shine to return them to a matt finish. All up probably less than 30 minutes.

So overall painting the table to this point took approximately 12 hours of actual work. This was far less than I thought it would take and I am much happier with the achieved result over what I thought I could do.

It cost me about $100 in materials - mostly spray paint cans. You could cut this in half by using an airbrush I reckon.

There are some bits I’d like to do to complete the table. First up would be adding rust to some of the metal. I know I can achieve good rust effects so that would be a logical step. Second, I want to wash some of the gutters with SWM’s "Sewer Water" to make them a little grimier. Finally, I want to use some water effects to represent some burst water mains/sewer pipes. I’m guessing all up this would be another 2-3 hours all up.

There you have it…..a tutorial that shows what you can achieve if you put your mind to it. I was scared at the outset but really enjoyed the task and am very happy with the finished product.


  1. Very informative. The patchwork mask in particular gives a great effect.

  2. Thanks Pete. The result is great.
    I've been staring at mine ever since they arrived daunted like you said.
    12 hours to do the set dosn't seam so bad (unless I try get all fancy with the airbrush...)

  3. Minor correction for the pavements. We used the darker grey first then used the lighter one with the mask. Probably works both ways though

  4. Great write up, thanks! What was the reason behind using a gloss varnish then following that up with a matt-eriser?

    1. Long term protection. Gloss generally is a more protective varnish.