Clockwork Temple Base-ics part II: Painting

In the last article, I talked about how I made my clockwork temple bases for my Convergence army. This time, we’re going to paint them up and use some techniques that may not be familiar to most miniature painters. That’s right, we’re using oil paints!

But first, lets get started. With the bases done, the first step is to prime them. When painting models and bases that are mostly metallic, it’s generally better to forgo the zenithal and just prime black. As such, I go with Stynylrez flat black through the airbrush, but you could do a rattle can prime if that’s more your speed. Simple, everyone knows how to do that.


Next up, we’re going to lay down our silver metals, so it’s time to take out the Vallejo Metal Colors (not Model Color or Model Air, Vallejo Metal Color) and get to work. The specific colours don’t really matter, but you’re going to want a dark grey metal like Steel or Gunmetal Grey, a mid-tone like Silver or Dark Aluminum, and a highlight such as Chrome or Aluminum. The specific colours don’t really matter because it’s bases we’re talking about and VMC has a somewhat ridiculous range of grey metals (but not enough golds and coppers, grumble grumble).

We’re going to work from dark to light, so I started with the gunmetal grey, added some black ink to darken it even further, and applied a base coat over the entire base. From there, we’re going to apply our dark colour, our midtone, and our highlight in succession. But we’re not just going to just cover everything up with another base coat, we’re going to move the airbrush around, applying each colour in a marbled pattern, which will create visual interest. Also, as you move to the highlights, start focusing your fire in certain areas that you want to highlight – namely, areas that aren’t going to be in the shadow of the model, and the centers of the floor panels, away from the panel lines.

Picking out details.

The next step is to simply pick out the various details – paint up the gears and greeblies in brass and copper, highlighting as you go. Then give the whole thing a quick dry brush with a bright silver, which will highlight the steel, copper and bronze all at once. From there, pick out the hoses in grey and give them a nuln oil wash. Hit the hoses with a quick coat of brush-on varnish and let the paints cure, preferably overnight, because the next step is where the fun part begins.

Note that if you use a rattle can primer, this is the only airbrush step in the process. If you don’t have an airbrush, there may be a workaround — what I would probably do is get some big makeup brushes and apply the metals over the black primer by dry brushing them on successively from dark to light, and maybe doing a little stippling here and there of bright silvers.

Oil time!

That’s right, it’s time to break out our oil paints. Oil paints aren’t anything new, but they’ve been rediscovered by a lot of miniature painting influencers who are a lot more influential than me lately, so they’re kind of the hot fad right now. The thing with oil paints is that they have a few properties that make them totally different from acrylic paints, so you’re

First, the challenges with oil paints. Obviously, oil and water don’t mix, so you’re going to need some odorless spirits for thinning the paints and cleaning your brushes. You’re also probably going to want to use them in a well-ventilated area; I’ve found they can cause irritation, but it might just be that I’m using decades-old tubes. Finally, oil paints are used by canvas artists and as such, part of the drying process is for the linseed oil to be absorbed into the canvas. Since we aren’t painting on canvas and plastic isn’t very absorbent, if we are using artist oil paints, we’re going to want to squirt what we need onto a piece of cardboard and let the cardboard soak up some of the linseed oil for a couple hours before we get to work.

But, in spite of all these challenges, oil paints offer huge benefits. They have a really long drying time, which opens us up to some techniques that simply won’t work with acrylics – and we’re going to use two of these techniques on this project. They can also be very forgiving because if you make a mistake, the paint isn’t dry and can be just wiped away.

Oil washes

By mixing oil paints and your spirits, you can make a wash that behaves very differently from your standard Nuln Oil. For this project, I like to make a blue-black wash by mixing up some black and blue paint with my spirits of choice. I’m not sure the exact ratio, but it’s easy to add a little more white spirits or paint if it doesn’t feel right.

As you go to apply the oil wash, you’ll notice that it is actually pretty amazing. You know how when you started painting you slathered minis in Nuln Oil and then moved away from that later on as you started to get annoyed with all the coffee staining and the dirty look? Well, an oil wash in many ways feels like that magical moment when you slathered that first mini in Nuln Oil all over again.

It’s been a while since I took any sort of fluid dynamics, so I’m not sure if it’s the viscosity or the surface tension, but you’ll see that oil washes move around on the surfaces more. This makes them great for doing things like panel lines, as you can simply touch the panel line with a loaded brush and the oil wash will flow along the panel line, shading it all in one quick go.

The other trick to oil washes is since they take so long to dry, you can easily avoid coffee staining by soaking up any excess. I like to use makeup wedges, but a paper towel or some foam from a blister pack can work in a pinch. You can also let the oil wash dry in the panel lines for a couple hours then come back in with the makeup wedges and wipe the excess off the flat surfaces. This is much easier than trying to panel line with acrylics, and because you aren’t getting coffee staining everywhere, it’s much cleaner and it doesn’t mess with metallic shines.

Dot filters

Now that we’ve got our panel lines picked out, we’re going to dirty up our floor and add some more visual interest. Here we’re going to use a technique called a dot filter which is something that you really can’t do with acrylics for reasons that will soon become obvious.

First, prepare your oil paints by squirting them onto the cardboard and letting the linseed oil soak out. Since we’re trying to make the floor look aged and maybe a little dirty, we’re going to go with a few shades of browns and some black. I also like to throw in a little blue just to add some contrast and visual interest.

When you’re ready to go, take a round brush and apply some dots in all the various colours to the surface. Yes, this will look stupid at this stage, but don’t worry. Just apply your dots, focusing on areas you want to shade like the areas near panel lines and, with the black, areas that are going to be in the shadow of the model.

With the bases covered in silly looking dots, you’re going to want to take a dry brush – and I’m using dry brush in both senses of the term, that is, a brush that is dry and also the sort of brush that you use for dry-brushing – and push these dots around. Using little circular motions, spread these dots around and get them all mixed together. You will quickly see these dots disappear as they are spread out over the surface, shading it in all the various colours of the dots. The browns give a grimy floor look, while all the different colours add some neat visual interest to the surface.

And, since we’re using oil paints, the process is pretty idiot-proof. If you want to shade them more, you can always add more dots and spread them around more. If you’ve got too much oil paint on there, it’s very easy to wipe some off the surface with a dry makeup sponge, exposing more of the underlying metallics.

Once you’re satisfied, leave them to dry. And once the oils are all dry, you can touch up anything you need and paint the base rims. Paint them black and go over them with a brush-on sealer and your bases are ready for models!


When it comes to making good-looking armies, bases are a huge part of it. By using these techniques, you can make some amazingly cool and thematic bases for a Convergence army, or for any other models that have a lot of cool clockwork steampunk stuff going on.

Clockwork Temple Base-ics

It’s been a while. As one of my projects lately, I’ve been starting a Convergence army for Warmachine and posting these to the Warmachine/Hordes Painting group on facebook, where I also help run the #pointaday challenge. If you are on facebook and aren’t in this group, definitely check it out.

Anyways, since Convergence are the clockwork art deco robots faction, I’ve been making my own clockwork themed bases, loosely inspired by some sort of clockwork temple. I’ve been getting a couple and comments on them, so I figured I would do a basic tutorial.

What you will need


  • Privateer Press bases
  • 0.020” and 0.040” plasticard
  • Round wound guitar strings
  • Little gears – from watch parts, steampunk jewelry, or model car gears
  • Plastic cement (optional)
  • CA glue


  • Circle Cutter – I use the OLFA CMP-1, which is a compass style circle cutter
  • Hobby Knife
  • Sanding block – I have the Goodman Models super sanding blocks which I love, but you can make your own sanding blocks by gluing sandpaper to a block of wood
  • Scribing Tools – you have plenty of options here, from a simple hobby knife to purpose-made scribers and chisels
  • Cutting mat
  • Side cutters or some tool to that effect
  • Straight edge (a small L-shaped ruler works best)

Sampling of tools. Top to bottom: circle cutter, pin vise rivet punch, Tamiya scriber, hobby knife, MadWorks chisel with 0.2mm tip

Scribing and cutting

Before we get started, I want to talk for a minute about scribing – that is, the process of carving additional detail into plastic models. There are a lot of tools you can use to scribe details into plastic, but I want to talk here about the simple hobby knife and the difference between scribing and cutting.

To illustrate this, consider the simple hobby knife. If you run it across a sheet of plastic, you will get different results depending on if you are using the front or the back of the blade. If you use the front, sharp edge of the blade, two things happen. First, the blade cuts as it presses into the plastic. But the plastic that you are pressing into with the knife has to go somewhere. This means as you make the cut, the plastic that you are cutting into gets pushed to the side and creates a raised area on each side, kind of like how a snowplow piles up snow on the side of the road.

If you use the back of the blade, you can see that it behaves differently – it creates some debris, be it plastic dust or little curly bits. This is because instead of cutting into the plastic, it’s scraping away plastic. This also means that it doesn’t pile up on the sides like with a knife, because the excess plastic is being taken away.

Understanding this difference is going to be important for a few steps in this process – sometimes you want to cut, sometimes you want to scribe, and sometimes you want to do both.

1. Make circles

For each base, what we need are two circles – one in the 0.020” plasticard, and one in the 0.040” plasticard. While you can use different thicknesses for the thick piece if you want, I find at 0.020” works best for the thin piece because it’s about the thickness of the depth of the inside of a PP base rim. The diameter of the circles should be close to the inner diameter of a PP base. It’s probably better to err on the side of slightly too large as you’ll probably want to sand down the edges with a sanding block just to clean them up anyways.

To make these, I use an OLFA CMP-1 circle cutter, which is a simple tool that can be used cut circles with a variety of diameters. It has a needle for the centerpoint and a cutting blade that can be set to any diameter from about 1cm to 15cm. Simply press the needle into the center and spin the tool so that the cutting blade cuts a circle into the plastic.

While this tool wasn’t really designed to cut through plastic this thick, there is a workaround. I find it easiest when cutting these circles to go back and forth between clockwise and counterclockwise with the circle cutter. It is like switching between the front and the back of a hobby knife – going forwards to make a cut, then going backwards to scrape it deeper and wider. Eventually you will cut and scrape most of the way through, at which point you can take a sharp hobby knife and cut out any parts where it’s just barely hanging on.

0.020″ and 0.040″ thick circles, of same diameter as inside of the bases

2. Add Scribed Detail

Now that we have circles in both thin and thick plasticard, we’re going to use the thin pieces of plasticard as the base for our work and our greeblie layer, while the thick plasticard will represent the floor plates that the model is standing on. We need to do two things to the thick pieces – cut away sections to create recessed areas for greeblies, and scribe detail into the floor plates.

There are a lot of different scribing tools you can use for this. The back of a hobby knife is something you already have and can use, though it’s not always the best or safest. Tamiya makes a plastic scriber that comes with retractable hook-shaped blades that works nicely for things like this. I also have a set of MadWorks chisel tips which range in width from a needle to a 1.5mm thick chisel; I find the 0.2mm is a good thickness for these sort of panel lines.

Simply run your scribing tool of choice across the surface of the plastic, guided by your straightedge, to create a scribe line. This will take multiple passes, so be gentle, especially on the first couple passes – it’s better to press lightly and go over the panel multiple times to get the desired depth than to press too hard trying to do it all at once and have your tool skip out of the groove.

To cut away sections, simply scribe all the way through with your scribing tool of choice, and clean up the edges by running it along a sanding block. You can also use your circle cutter to make curved scribe lines or cut away round sections that might match the diameter of your large gears.

For rivets, I made a simple tool out of a piece of brass tube that I sharpened the end of and put into a pin vise. By pressing down into the plastic with this, you can create a circular impression. However, since it is pressing into the plastic like the front of a knife, it does create these raised piles of plastic around the rivet, which can be easily fixed by scraping it off with a hobby knife and running the face of the plastic over a sanding block to sand away any excess.

There are other rivet ntools you can try – from leather punches to pattern wheels to the tip of a mechanical pencil – depending on what you have around and how big of rivets you want.

But for bases like this, I generally like my rivets to be big and chunky.

Finally, glue the thick piece on top of the thin circle. I prefer plastic cement for this, but you can use CA glue in a pinch.

3. Add greeblies

Greeblies are random details that are used in science fiction modelling to make objects look more complex. They are most famous for their use in the studio models for the Star Wars movies – ships like Y-wings are just covered in random crap like hoses, grates, and, if you look closely, you can see a shovel from a model tank kit on the back. We’re going to use greeblies to make our bases more interesting.

Hoses are simple – cheap roundwound guitar strings, cut to length, make great hoses and take paint and washes quite nicely. As for the rest of the greeblies, since we want to give a clockwork vibe, we want to incorporate a lot of gears and such into our greeblies. I’ve found a few sources that I like, all easily available from your friendly local online retail corporate overlord, which I will run down here.

My favourite are the baggies of random watch parts that you can buy online. In addition to gears, they have other cool-looking clockwork parts that can be incorporated like plates and wheels and shafts. You can also get similar gears which are decorative only for steampunk nail art that also work great.

There are also these larger metal gears for steampunk jewelry. They have a lot of very nice patterns to them and are great . The down side is that they are a little tricky to work with – you need some nice big side cutters and some metal files if you want to cut them to fit the edge of a base.

Finally, there are plastic gears for things like model cars. Since they are made of plastic, they’re easier to cut and sand and work with than these big metal gears. However, they don’t have very much detail; I find that I’m drilling holes in them just to add some additional detail and break up the big flat spots.

Using a thick CA glue, simply glue the greeblies in place quasi-randomly. Depending on the size of the greeblies, you might need a good pair of pointed tweezers. Some of them you may need to cut and file to fit how you want them, but most of these greeblies are thin enough and made of soft enough metal that a decent pair of side cutters with a decent sized handle to give you good leverage will take care of that.

Greeblified base toppers

Final Steps

At this point, what you should have is a cool looking steampunk base topper. Simply glue it into place on top of a PP base, and you’re ready to start painting. Which… may be another article as there are some cool tricks you can do with oil paints to make it very easy.