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Q-man

Mini Painting

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I've never been very artistic, any good drawings that I've done tending to be doodles comprised of basic shapes like circles and squares. So the thought of me painting miniatures just seemed like a prelude to failure, so I never tried. During all the tabletop games I've played I just used the prepainted mini's or borrowed some from another player. Recently though some of my friends have been explaining that its not nearly as hard as I thought it was, there's some simple tricks that you can use to make the mini's look good that don't require a lot of skill.

Either they've had enough of me borrowing miniatures, or its really not that hard. I figured what the heck why not give it a try, lets see just how horribly I could disfigure a mini. Looking around I found that Reaper Miniatures has some learn to paint kits that seemed like a good starting point. They come with paints, a pair of mini's, a brush, and some instructions. Sounds like everything you'll need to get started.

After looking through the instructions its close, but not quite everything. When the mini arrives you'll need to trim off some bits of metal hanging off the mini as a result of the molding process, so a pair of angle cutters and a file help. Then you'll need to prime the mini, the kit doesn't have any primer in it so you'll have to get that separately. The kits also will expect you to mix paint together to get the correct shades form time to time; you'll need some non-absorbant smooth surface for that, a bit of plastic works just fine (in fact the plastic packaging the kit comes in will suffice). Your fingers are likely pretty large compared to the mini, so there's a good chance they'll get in the way when painting; a pair of needle nose pliers work better for holding it. I'm none to skilled with paints so I figured some paint thinner would be a good idea as well. Some of that stuff probably isn't required, but as you probably can find most of it lying around the house anyway so its not a big deal.

Once you have all that stuff together you'll need to primer your miniature. You'll need to coat the whole thing so right off the bat you'll need to work out some way of getting paint all over the mini without getting paint all over your hands; I'm not sure its better to paint your needle nose pliers, but they'll smudge less at least. Its a little deceptive how this works, the primer paint is a lot thinner and will run all over the surface making your work seem very sloppy. When you use normal paints its much thicker and easier to control.

Primer colors for mini's seem to only come in black and white. I don't really think that it matters which color you pick, since you'll be covering the entire mini in other colors anyway. Allegedly whatever base color you use will have some effect on the next layer of paint you us. Either my eyes suck, or this effect is very slight and hard to notice.

I will say that you should still give some thought to the primer and base coat colors. They may not impact the paint colors that you apply on top of them, but they will impact any areas that you dont get paint onto. Thats a bit silly since I just said that you'll be covering the whole mini with some other paints. Lets say that your mini has a bedroll and a backpack on his back, there's going to a slight gap between them where it'll be tricky to get the brush to fit. To get any sort of paint coverage in there you'll need to thin your paints a bit so they'll run into that gap. Doing that with primer or a base coat is no big deal, if it ends up running all over you'll cover it when you do the rest of the painting. If you cover it with a dark color then you can ignore it later and it will just look like shadow. If you are doing shiny objects like polished armor, then perhaps having the light color might look better. You'll want your base coat colors to not stand out in a bad way in case you miss a spot.

What I found useful was the primer the mini in white, then apply a basecoat of black on top of that. This gave me a chance to practice a bit without worrying about ruining the appearance of the mini. Since you're going to cover the base coat anyway, its a good tiem to practice the detail work. I found it useful to figure out how to approach some areas of the mini, where there would need to be fine lines painted or where the position of the figure made it awkward to reach. It gave me a bit of a heads up on which areas would be tricky and try out a technique without risk of making a mess. You could probably do this when priming, assuming you aren't using a spray primer, but again its thinner and flows more easily than regular paint. This makes it tought to judge how well your approach worked.

Once you've got the mini primered and applied some base coat its time to start the real painting. You've got a whole figure there to paint, where you begin probably depends on your style. What I found was that most of the smudges and mistakes I made weren't from sloppy brush strokes, but rather from bumping some other part of the mini when getting my brush in position for a stroke. For example when reaching past the figures arm to paint his side I'd leave some mark on the hand or something. So for me it was best to work from the inside of the figure and work outwards, this way I could fix the mistakes as I went.

To help minimize the smudging I found that it was best to get the absolute minimum about of paint on the brush. Getting just the tip of the brush in the paint worked best. It meant I had to go back to get paint often, but with that small amount it was very easy to control where it went. It also ensured that I couldn't leave a large glob of paint anywhere. Keeping the layers of paint very thin made it easy to cover up mistakes. I could just let it dry then repaint the smudge with the correct color.

Eventually you'll learn what strokes and brush directions your comfortable with. Its very hepful to spin and flip the figure around so that you can always be using that stroke. Its not a bad thing to try new ways to use the brush, but if you have something that works well you should take advantage of it. It also gives you a chance to see the mini from all directions, which was very useful for me since it revealed many areas that I had entirely forgotten to paint.

Something else you might want to try is to extend your pinky or ring finger of the hand holding the brush so that its pressing against your mini. This anchors your brush hand to the mini and stabalizes it from wobbling which gives a bit more control in the brush stroke.

Be ready to spend a lot of time working on the small details in the mini's. I think I spent over half an hour on the boots for the dwarf mini. Painting the leather on the innermost part, then painting the metal armor plates over the leather, then adding detail colors to the straps holding the armor plates, going back to correct the smudges and mistakes, and finally dry brushing some highlight colors onto them. It didn't help that I'm not very good at this and needed to correct a lot of mistakes, but it did seem like some small areas like that could take a long time to get right.

I guess I should explain what dry brushing is, since it seems like a great technique for adding some texture to the mini. What you do when dry brushing is to get most of the paint of the brush before takign quick strokes on the mini. You'll get some paint on the brush, then paint it on a paper towel to get most of the paint off, then quickly run it over some part of the mini. The idea is that the bristles will still hold some paint even after painting the paper, when you then paint the mini it will only leave a small amount of paint on the very top of the surface. Generally you'll want to use a lighter color for the highlights; for example I painted the hair with a brown color, then I mixed some tan in with the brown to lighten it and used that the paint the highlights. Since the light color is only being applied on some of the surface you end up with a little texture.

Anyway, that's the stuff I learned from the first couple mini's I painted. If you interested in seeing how well/poorly I did you can have a look in here. They aren't the best, but I figure they'll look good enough on a battlemat surrounded by goblins and orcs.

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  1. outrider's Avatar
    for holding miniatures, elmers glue and a popsickle still will go along way. that way you have something to hold on to while painting the figure. I usually put 2 to 3 figures on a stick.

    There are grey primers but I am of the opinion that they are not good in general. If you want a figure to be brightly colored use white primer. If you want it to be dark black primer.

    Start the painting from the inside of the figure, start with the skin and paint outward. If you make a mess doing this its easier to to take care of the mistake with the next outer layer. So you would paint the face, then the shirt next and then any outer clothing.

    After you are done with the figure make sure you seal it. If not the paint will wear off if you use the figures a lot or tend to toss them around.