There are many nice ways of achieving a rich, undead skin tone (see our article on the one-hour Zombie Painting Challenge for four different looks made by the four people in the challenge). Many of them, however, include multiple layers of paint and highlighting, using different washes in different areas, or other special effects that one might not want to take the time for when painting an entire zombie horde. Especially if you ever need to paint models for other games, a multi-step process on your several hundred zombies may take more time than you really want to put into it. After all, zombies are supposed to spread like rabbits (aren’t you scared of rabbits now?) The more quickly you can pop ‘em out, the bigger your horde can get!
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the nicely mottled look of each of your zombies having a slightly different skintone. It does reflect the entire population, after all. They won’t all look the same. So, how do you make sure everyone looks dead, unique, and yet coordinated, all at the same time, while still maintaining some manner of painting speed? Here are a few of the notes I have compiled.
1- Consider the sculpt of the model. Let’s face it. Some zombie sculpts don’t need any help looking like zombies. If your mini’s guts are hanging out, he’s missing limbs, or half of his face is just a skull, no one will need help identifying him as a zombie, so you could even just use a regular skintone on him, if you wanted. However, if the sculpt is simpler, like “shambling normal guy with a cut on his leg”, his undead state may not be as obvious, and you will want to pick a skintone that couldn’t possibly belong to a living human.
2- Color ideas for the dead flesh look. While dead flesh can take on a number of beautiful hues (much like a bruise), if you want to go simple, there are a couple of colors that can give you that all-over dead effect with little fuss or muss. The most popular of these is a light, earthy green, made by all miniature paint companies, usually with an obvious name like “Necrotic Flesh” (Army Painter). You can use this straight if you want to, or mix a drop of it with several drops of your fleshtone for a more subtle look that let’s you know your zombies were originally humans and not half-lizards. If you are stingy with your paint (like I am), work on several zombies at once and use the color you mixed on several little undead at a time.
3- Don’t forget to go multi-ethnic! Almost anywhere you go in the world these days, people have a variety of skin colors, and if you want to capture a true zombie apocalypse, they all have to be in there. And remember, almost anything in the brown family looks like somebody’s skin, so you probably already have more than enough potential variation sitting in your paint rack. Just take any brown you’ve got, mix some with a drop or two of light green or blue (the darker the brown, the more of the other color you will need to mix in to see an effect), and you’ve got another lovely undead color. It’s that simple.
4- Pick your wash and stick with it. You have already achieved the unhealthy pallor you want in your basecoat, so there’s no need to go fancy with the wash. Pick a nice neutral, like a sepia, and use it all the time. If you spend a few extra seconds on each model carefully removing the extra wash from highlight spots where you don’t want it, you may even find that you need to do little or no highlighting. After all, this is a mass of dead people who haven’t showered since they died- an overall tinge of dirty brown will only enhance the look.
So go forth, my apprentice necromancers, and raise thee an army. And if you need help selecting new
victims recruits, see my new ones once a moon with my Zombie of the Month articles!