Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners

Painting miniatures, the Grimdark way gets all the rage and hype lately, and even though it’s not necessarily sold as a painting technique for beginners, it surly is.

One day after 2024 summer solstice, I’ll teach you some Grimdark! Especially what this means to me and what it should look like to me. Your Grimdark may, of course, vary. A while ago I already did a 5 part tutorial on how to paint some postapocalyptic wasteland warriors.

Grimdark in a nutshell

In the Grim Darkness of the Future, there is only War.

Words such as these are well known to Warhammer 40k fans.

But what does it mean: Grim Darkness or simply Grimdark?

The term “Grimdark” as such isn’t a proper word that you would find in a dictionary, but rather a composition of 2 words that defines a certain “esthetic” or look and feel. It’s generally attributed to an art style made famous by John Blanche, an artist behind Games Workshop’s Warhammer early illustrations. You could, of course, argue that other artists adopted a similar “esthetic” in their works. I’m spontaneously thinking of Goya and Bosch for that matter.

Painting by John Blanche

Instead of delving too deep into art history, I’ll try to focus this beginners tutorial on painting your miniatures the grimdark way. That’s why I try to focus on the words “Grim” and “Dark” and what they might mean. Maybe these terms inspire and influence your miniature painting style.


Forbidding, unapproachable, distant, aloof, dismal, bleak, dingy, wretched, miserable, serious, worried, sad, very unpleasant


Unlit, absence of light, shadowy, gloomy

What you’ll need

To keep painting your miniatures as simple as possible for beginners, I won’t use an airbrush to grimdark them. Also, because my compressor is broken at the time of creating this tutorial. If you have one, it might speed up and simplify some steps.

The 3 (undead) Musketeers!

Here, I compiled a non-exhaustive list of things you’ll need.

  • Miniatures
  • Black spray paint
  • Grey and/or white spray paint
  • Acrylic paints
  • Brushes
  • Old toothbrush
  • Pastel chalk (earthy tones)
  • Black and brown oil paints
  • Mineral spirit (odorless)
  • Q-tipps
  • PVA-glue
  • Basing material ( sand, ash, grout, soil, etc.)
  • Matt varnish from the spray can
  • Brush-on gloss varnish or transparent nail polish.

Priming and base coating

Black paint from the rattle can is, in my opinion, the easiest and cheapest way to prime your miniature. Adding a zenithal highlight with grey or white spray paint. This simply means spraying or rather dusting your lighter paint from the top at a 45° angle maximum. But don’t over-do this step. You don’t want to end up with a miniature that is too bright. It should rather help to bring out the volume of your mini.


After your miniature is covered in black and gray/white, you can put your base paints on it. Try to use dark tones in general. Light and bright colors should be exclusively reserved for spots you want to emphasize. That is generally the head or the face, a glowing object, a special weapon, or any other feature you want to highlight. Also, paint the lower parts in the darkest tones. For example, boots and trousers can be nearly black. The torso should already be lighter.

  1. Randomly stipple on rust brown acrylic paint to break the monotony.
  2. Sparingly and randomly stipple on a dark brown acrylic paint to create more depth for the subsequent paint layers.
  3. Dry brush the entire miniature in beige acrylic paint.
  4. Dry brush only the top part of your miniature with white.
  5. Block in the base colors (cloak, belts, weapon, cables, etc.) using a watered-down acrylic paints of your choice. Keep adding layers if needed. Use desaturated colors and limit your palette.

Don’t worry too much about highlighting and shading your miniature. A simple dry-brushing or stippling should be enough. The subsequent layers of washes will help define the volumes on your figure.

Corroded metal

If your miniature has got any metal parts, like armor or weapons, you should make it rusty, corroded or otherwise used looking. Rust, verdigris, oxidation and other residue will probably be stuck on metal parts. Anyway, avoid too shiny looking metal pieces. Except, if you want to show some polished and shiny metal on purpose. Let your concept or story guide you in that choice.

I roughly applied some gun metal paint over all the metallic areas, still leaving some of the underlying brown and black shine through. A stippling motion or “over-brush” might best describe it.

Next, mix (all) your colors previously used together to achieve a dirty looking dark brownish tint. Add water to the mix until it’s got a consistency like a traditional wash. Not too thin, that it flows everywhere without tinting the pieces, but not too thick to cover. Just experiment with your wash. Yes, you’ve made a simple wash at this stage! Now, apply it to the metal parts. Remove excess paints with your finger, if you think it’s too much.

Once your wash is dry, I randomly stippled on, some of my previously used brown rust color on the metal parts. This simulates rust. Accordingly, I used a turquoise color as verdigris on all bronze and copper parts. (the shoulder pad on the right skeleton for example).

Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners

To make it look like metal again, I dry-brushed the metal parts using my initial metallic paint(s).

Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners

And, with that, the metallic parts are done!

Highlights and details

You could leave your miniatures at this stage. but, I prefer to bring out a minimum amount of detail, especially at the top part of a miniature. Most importantly the face/head, since that will be the focus point of your final mini. You might add some accent colors, as I did for the alien warrior on the right. Try not to overdo it though.

Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners

At this stage, I sealed my miniatures using cheap varnish from the rattle can before continuing to the actual “grim-darkening”.

Grimdark effects

After all the base coats have been applied, it’s time for the fun part: Grim-darkening your miniature!

Oil wash

I first applied a home made oil wash (some black and some brown paints, diluted with odorless white spirit) all over the miniatures. Then, I let it “dry” for 30 minutes approximately.

Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners

The following step is a satisfying one! Just take a q-tip or, as I did, a fine make-up sponge and gently rub the slightly dried up oil wash from the miniature, leaving the wash only in the crevices and recesses. You’ll be left with something like this:

Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners

This needs to dry for a looong time. I usually let mine for at least 48 hours.


After the oil wash is fully dry, it’s time to get more filth on your miniature! It’s Grimdark painting after all! For this, I quickly mixed up some texture paste, using bicarbonate, PVA-glue, brown and black paint or inks.

I applied it at the bottom/feet of the miniatures and everywhere where dirt and mud would have accumulated, like weapons, armor etc.. Use a small, old brush for that, since it will get ruined in the process.

Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners


After the mud paste has dried, take out your old toothbrush or an equally sized stiff brush and mix up some watery brown wash, using the same method as you’ve learned in a previous step. Or just use a bought or homemade acrylic wash. Dip the toothbrush or the brush into the wash and “flick” it sparingly on some random spots of your mini. Don’t overdo it!


Now, that you’ve basically finished painting your miniatures the grimdark way, I’ll show you an easy and quick method for basing suited for beginners and people with no patience.

To add to the grimdark look, try to keep the base grim and dark. Obviously.
Keep your base as dark as possible since the lower part of your miniature is dark as well. Your base should add the grimdark, not distract from it. This way, you keep the focal point of your miniature at the head, where it should be.

Coffee grounds, sand, and real ashes

Try to represent mud or dust like ground textures. Material, like coffee grounds, real ash, or tile grout, are very well suited for this purpose.

I added a slightly watered-down PVA-glue layer on the blank base, sprinkled some coffee grounds and sand on it, and to finish, I dusted some ashes from my BBQ on top. A wet brush brought everything together and binds the substrate to the underlying glue.

Other than that, some small twigs, small pieces of debris, skulls, candles, and chains, all add to the darkness.


For a lack of a better term, I borrowed the word “vignette” from photography.

Your miniature will be better framed if you keep the lower parts darker. Also, this way, the focal point will be the head/face and bust of your mini. Try to keep your colors dark on the lower half of your model and gradually make them lighter the closer you get to the head or the face.

To achieve a simple “vignetting,” I simply sprayed black paint at the lower part of the models.


Next, I took out my cheap artist’s pastel chalks (especially the brown, black and grey tones) and shaved some powder off each into a separate beer bottle cap. Using a soft small brush, I applied it similar to the mud on random spots on the lower part of the model, where dust and dirt would have accumulated.

Lock everything in place using a matte varnish from the spray can. Alternatively you could use your partner’s hairspray for that matter.

Before proceeding to the final step, I painted my base rims black and varnished them again.

Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners

Grime, Slime, Grease

After varnishing, adding subtle water, mud, oil, blood, slime effects might add to the story your miniature should tell.

I added a glow effect to the skeletons’ eyes, as wells as a gloss effect on the alien’s head to make it look super slimy and gross.

Painting miniatures grimdark for beginners

And with that, your’re done!


That’s how painting miniatures grimdark can be a painting technique for beginners


Once you get the hang of this kind of painting minis, feel free to experiment with other media and techniques. Superglue, tufts, fibers, dried plants, etc. are all excellent additions to your grimdark painting repertoire.

If you want to delve deeper into grimdark miniature painting and go beyond beginner material, make sure you check out The Grimdark Compendium‘s website and his YouTube channel The Grimdark Compendium – Premier Grimdark Hobby Content.

Happy Grimdarkening your miniatures!

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