The Black Watch: painting the best of the Highlands

Shane Palmer

Twas Christmas morning…

The Black Watch. The Oldest Highland Regiment. The first kilted regiment in the British Army, and the first to introduce the bagpipe…

After months spent in Lockdown, finally we were let out of the house and out of the city. And it was Christmas time! And what else could you want under the Tree, but a box of Highlanders?

After painting up the first platoon for the 40k Caledonian Highlanders, I was buzzing to expand my Napoleonic-themed Imperial Guard.

And the Warlord Games Advancing Highlanders box seemed the perfect next step. Gorgeous sculpts, the perfect 28mm scale and with flowing kilts, they’d be a great addition.

Excitedly prying open the two blister packs, the first thing that grabbed me was the metal.

The plan was simple…

I’d do another brilliant kit-bash with Games Workshop kits to bring these Highlanders into the 41st Millenium.

Until I opened the box.

The Warlord sculpts are entirely one-piece. And having shipped from the UK; the muskets and bayonets were bent to hell.


So these Highlanders sat in the drawer for months, gathering dust while I chipped away at the lovely multi-part Victrix box.

But after painting up a company of 54mm French Foot Dragoons, the historical bug had bit!

Taking a break from hot-shot lasguns and conversions, I decided to paint this company as faithfully to the source as possible. And picking from the three Highland regiments of the era was a no-brainer: this would be the 42nd Regiment of Foot – the famous Black Watch.

‘In a Highland Regiment every individual feels that his conduct is the subject of observation and that, independently of his duty, as one member of a systematic whole he has a separate and individual reputation to sustain, which will be reflected on his family and district or glen.’

The Black Watch

The Gallant Forty-Twa

Formed in 1725 in the wake of the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, the original three Highland Regiments were drafted as militia to keep ‘watch’ of crime in the Highlands, and attempt to keep the unruly Clans in line.

Recruited from clans loyal to the British Throne, the Black Watch was raised in an unique way. Campbells, Grants, Frasers, & Munros joined the cause, and were commonly known as Am Freiceadan Dubh, or the Black Watch, probably due to the way they dressed.

Originally stationed in small detachments across the Highlands as a defacto police, the regiment would eventually see action across the British Empire and the world.

The Regiment gained fame and recognition especially throughout the Napoleonic Wars. No fewer than 10 battle honors were awarded to the Black Watch between 1801 – 1815.

These included: Egypt, Corunna, Fuentes D’Onor, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, Toulouse, Waterloo

Image of William Barnes Woolen's painting of the Black Watch at the Battle of Quatre Bras
The Black Watch hold off a French Cavalry charge at Quatre Bras – oil on canvas by William Barnes Woolen

Redcoats & Tartan: Painting the Black Watch

Regiment choice settled; now it was time to get stuck in. Those kilts ain’t gonna paint themselves laddie!

Working over a sprayed white primer, I tried to expand on some of the techniques explored with the Caledonian Highlanders.

I aimed to work from the lowest level of detail on the miniature up. For these guys, it was the glorious redcoats.

Keep your powder dry, and your brush wet!

After researching a number of Redcoat painting guides, the biggest takeaway was keeping the brush wet!

Working with acrylic paints allows for multiple smooth, thinned coats. In the past I’d thinned my paints on an old ceramic plate, mixing in drops of water.

However, this is quite time-consuming, and soon starts to feel like work.

Instead, you can just keep your brush wet. It felt like a light-bulb moment when I came a across this.

With the brush constantly damp – but not soaked – the paint flows smoothly onto the miniature, and into the recesses when base coating.

The company Piper takes shape

But most importantly – your finished miniatures doesn’t end up with the little dotted clumps of paint. Which of course best show up when snapping pictures well after painting.

The second new technique I applied was when and where the wash comes in.

A small pot of black ink blew my mind as a kid. The contrast! The colours! The detail!

Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

Yet, after a couple years back in the painting game as an adult, it slowly dawned on me that a good wash works well when targeted to specific areas. What’s that saying about all good things?

Following another guide, I stuck to a new workflow. Base coat first; then a thinned highlight layer (or two), followed by a wash into the recesses; then finished with a thinned highlight in the highest points of the detail.

Not only does this technique smoothly knit in the dark to light colours, but the deep-lying wash amplifies the dark – light contrast. And then everything truly pops!

This technique was a godsend with the Warlord sculpts. Differing from the crazy level of detail and epic scale of Games Workshop, the smooth and thin historical scale of Warlord needed a subtler painting style.

With 24 miniatures to paint, a solid batch-painting workflow always makes life easier (and keeps painting enjoyable!).

First up is the redcoats. Second the base blue of the kilt, the cuffs and the water canteen. Next is the blacks of the boots, scabbards and bonnets. Then the browns of the musket stock, cartridge pouch, bread bag. After that I pick out the brass and gold.

Finally, as the very top layer, is the whites. The cross-belt, backpack straps, hose-tops and collar are all picked out.

Painting the Black Watch tartan

Blue, green and striking. The simple but stunning tartan of the Black Watch is probably the most famous sett in the world.

Historically the Black Watch tartan was a Government issue. It didn’t hail directly from any of the Highland Clans (probably a wise choice, all things considered.)

I’d learned some good lessons from the tartan of the Caledonian Highlanders. But with the Black Watch, it was time to get even closer to the source material.

Starting with the same dark blue base, I worked in a similar green / dark green sett. But unlike most tartan, the Black Watch doesn’t have a lighter coloured thread. It’s just blue and green.

To get these darker colours to pop, I used a thinned dark grey. This line initially runs as a border up and across, ‘locking in’ the greens of the sett.

Subtle but effective: the Black Watch tartan

Once dry, I run even thinner grey lines down the centre of the main squares, both the blues and greens. Finally, the same thin lines but running horizontally.

I’m pretty damn happy with how the tartan has evolved. The first Highlander for my 40k looks good, but simple. I think there’s much more ‘in-world’ value in the detail of where the kilts have got to. While it’s not as instantly eye-catching, the closer you look, the more it looks like pattern on clothing.

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Regimental Standards: Flying the Colours of the Black Watch

Next up was the banners!

I love the sight of the dual Ensigns carrying the the Royal Flying Colours of the era.

Regiments of Foot in the British Army would carry the Royal Union Flag and a secondary Regimental Colour, with the Union Flag in the top left corner.

The Black Watch Colour is a splendid navy blue. The centerpiece is the wreathed initials of the King – George Regent. And at the bottom center is the Spinx of Giza; an honor for the Regiment’s service in Egypt in 1801, which remained on the Colour until the 21st century.

Lucikly for me, the Warlord box comes with a number of high-res standards, printed on a nice thick glossy paper.

Yet after cutting them out and dry-folding onto the Ensign’s standard poles, they don’t look quite right. While the detail and colours look fantastic, they’re a little too sharp and shiny – when paired with the hand-painted miniatures. And they’re very stiff. Like gloss paper.

PVA to the rescue!

Not to fear; after consulting a quick modelling guide on historical flags, the solution was at hand. Water-thinned PVA glue, and thinned paints.

The thinned PVA is first applied to one of the inner sides of the flag. While this is slowly drying, I attached the flag to the pole, carefully line up the edges, then gently work the paper into a series of folds. This gives a brilliant flapping-in-the-wind effect, and helps bring the standard to life.

To secure the paper to the pole, two dabs of super glue work a charm. One at the top, one at the bottom; inside the small fold gap between paper and metal.

Next we (patiently) allow the standard to dry. I placed both on their sides, so the shape would dry in place, and to not cause any accidental dips of bends.

Once dry, out comes the paint!

Just like the tartan of the kilts, the design of the regimental colours needed to look like it’s fabric. And match the ‘in-world’ look of the uniforms.

So once again, thinned paints came to the rescue! (This will become a recurring theme. It just makes a world of difference.)

Striving for a 50-50 mix (water to paint), I picked out the large navy blue details first. Almost instantly this clicked the flag into gear. It just looked so much better, and way less printed.

(At some stage I’d love to completely free-hand a full standard, but right now I love coffee too much. And don’t have the patience. Or a magnifying glass.)

Next up was the reds, followed by the whites. The reds was a simple layer or two of thinned Evil Sunz Scarlet and done!

A whiff of powder…

For the white, I started with a thin layer of Antique White, to add an earthy base to the flag. I then planned to highlight with a thinned white, but stopped short.

While Regimental Colours are treated with sacred reverence, there’s a lot of dust, gunpowder and mess flying around a battlefield, and a crisp white would get dirty pretty quickly.

So the Antique White sufficed!

A more patient and precise painter than me would probably next pick out the finer details of the flag. But considering the scale I was more than content to leave it at that.

The final touch was adding the golden finials and tassels to the pole. A great feature of the box, the tassels are made of a stiff wrapped wire that bends easily into shape; for a touch of dramatic action to finish it all off.

It’s the wee little things

I love the detail in these miniatures.

While not as grand or eye-catching as the GW sculpts, the small details of the uniforms, bonnets and weaponry really make these Highlanders pop.

The blue cuffs go to another level with the detailed white buttons and embroidery.

The canteens and backpacks just look brilliant with the 42 added in. (A brave adventure in free-handing from S Palmer!)

The red and white pattern hose tops are and bands of the bonnets are such a wonderfully unique part of the Highland uniform.

Unique and fine details

During the painting process, these are the small bits that really get to me; and make it all feel worthwhile.

And before I forget; the glorious mutton chops!

I’m always happy with the overall look of the redcoats and kilts. But when those final tiny details are added; that’s when the mini comes to life!

And of course, a cooking pan Samwise Gamgee would be proud of doesn’t hurt either!

Close up image of Black Watch miniature detail
Cooking pans and regimental numbers. It’s the little things that make a big difference!

Port your arms, Black Watch!

Overall; I’m thrilled with the company.

I always get a tremor of trepidation when attempting new techniques, or taking a miniature in a different direction to the past. But I feel it really paid off with these Highlanders.

The Black Watch is one of the the regiments in British military history, and now they look bloody brilliant on my shelf!

The company will eventually make it’s way down to St Leonards. They’ll join the ranks of French, Bavarians, Saxons, British and Austrians in the Old Man’s growing 28mm Napoleonic collection. They’re just too nice, too braw to sit on a shelf. But when mixed in with the larger collection; they’ll being seeing some table top action!

image of miniatures of the 42nd Foot - The Black Watch

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