Miniatures Painting 1a

I've been wanting to do this for some time.  I've indulged a lot of post-apocalyptic-specific modelling, and will continue to do so, but what every miniatures gaming website needs is a good, solid, basic miniatures painting course.   What follows is mine.  Maybe some of the stuff I've learned in my 20-plus on-and-off years of painting will help some of you out there put good-looking stuff on the table.  That's part of the fun, and it's also part of the "draw" for new miniatures gamers.  So here we go with the basics..! 

SCALE -  Above we have an illustration of the types of things that pass for "25mm" or "Gaming" figures.  You can see that there's quite a bit of variation.  The girl on the left stands tall a RAFM modern day survival-horror figure.  The Omega Man in the middle is a fairly tall Assault Group mini, and the one on the right is a very old Grenadier Road-Warrior type.  He's what'cha would call a "True 25".  As you can see, the three have different designations as to scale, but are roughly compatible.  You can just say the chickie-babe is the supermodel type and the road warrior is a shorty.   The reason I'm pointing this out to you is when you're looking for accessories for your game table you won't always have the luxury of being very picky.  You may have to buy model cars or buildings in appx 1/48 scale to use in games.  Even with those the "scale" on the box might not be what you get!  The best way to get a good match is to just put one of your "average" figures in your pocket and stand them next to the model you want to buy while you're in the store.  If it's a building you're buying, put them next to an open doorway -  that usually works really well.   Me, I have no shame.  I'll even open the box and do it to really make sure!

BRUSHES  -  OK, so you've got some miniatures (from a swap meet - bonus points!) so you're gonna have to do something with 'em, won't you?  You're gonna need some brushes.  Here's where I absolutely will not skimp on price!  A good brush will last you years if well kept and will perform like a champ.  You'll need a few flat brushes for "dry brushing" (see painting 1b lesson), some "paint movers" and some detail brushes.   Flat "dry-brushing" brushes can range from 1" wide to 1/4 inch wide.  A good brush type to "move paint" to cover area on a miniature is a #1 round brush.  Be super picky in selecting your detail brushes.  My favorites are #000 round brushes with a set of bristles that's just under 3/8 (1cm) long.  They should taper cleanly to a point.  They should not have a tip composed of a single hair longer than any of the others - a near-perfect cone.  They also should not have a bent tip.  They will probably develop one in time, so you don't want to start out with one.

Natural Hair vs Synthetic?  Largely a matter of personal taste.  If you have one that works well note it and buy 3 more!

PROPER BRUSH CARE  -  A lot of people are really hard on their brushes.  They give 'em hell, don't clean 'em up properly when they're done, and as a consequence eat through 'em quickly.  This leads to inconsistent results in the quality of their minis.  They also don't learn as quickly from their mistakes as a variable is introduced into their process that they really can't control.   Anyhow...

For round brushes of all types, make sure you clean them thoroughly when you're done, especially if you've just used metallic paints. You don't want those kinds of contaminants getting into the next paint sequence, such as your flesh tones, do you?  Paint and ink get loaded into the bristles, and if they dry like that your brush is ruined.  The best thing to do is to put then under a running water tap.  NEVER EVER let the rush of the water separate the bristles by pushing them apart!  Always let the water run "downstream" so to speak (from the back of the bristles toward the tip and off) - never point "into" the stream.  If they're really dirty, it is OK to roll the brush from side-to-side separating the bristles slightly to get the gunk out.  When you're done. always "wipe" the brush (on your hand, on the side of the water jar, etc) in a motion from the middle of the brush TOWARDS the tip and off the brush that way.

Flat brushes should follow the same rule, and use your fingers to pinch the tip flat after using.  Flat brushes will wear out a lot faster than round brushes.  It's just the nature of the techniques that they're used for.  Don't worry, thrashed flat brushes will find use later as applicators for pastel chalks.

Trim stray hairs from your detail brushes if you have to.  Small cuticle scissors or fingernail clippers work well for this.

THE MORTAL SIN in brush care is to have your brushes soak in a jar WITH THE BRISTLES DOWN.  This ruins brushes and brush tips (your working surface!) more quickly than any other behavior I've seen.   If I see you do this, I will kill you.

PRIMER -  Yes, it's true that you can apply acrylic paint directly to a pewter miniature.... but it won't last.  It'll rub off eventually, especially if you handle it a lot - like in a game or something worse like a painting contest.  So you'll have to use some sort of primer on the figure to give you a clean, smooth surface to work on and to help bond the paint to the figure.  Try out several primers, but to get the results you want you'll need to understand the properties of the primer itself.

Glossy or Flat - Primer should be fairly flat.  Gloss will allow the paint to run off of the miniature.  You don't want that.

Thickness and Opacity - You will probably want a primer that is thick enough to cover the surface without the bare metal shining through, but thin enough to not obscure any of the details.  If it's too thick or thin, your miniature will look like crap.

Smoothness vs Graininess - Some primers are very smooth, others have some graininess to them to give your paint that extra something to stick on to.  Normally, I prefer primers that are very smooth, but you shouldn't necessarily discount graininess either.  You may actually want a bit of grain to generate certain effects or simulate certain surface textures.   If you have smooth primer, than any kind of washing or inking technique should work as planned (see painting 1b).  If you put a wash on a figure that is primed with a grainy primer, the wash will not stay in the contours where it's supposed to.  It will "bleed" into the surrounding surfaces.   Typically, this looks like hell, but given the subject or surface you're trying to simulate, this might be exactly what you're looking for.

Drying Speed, Outdoor Temperature, and other Challenges - Primer should dry in a few minutes.  If you're using some sort of substance that takes a long time to dry, frustration is in your future!   If it is cold and especially wet outside when you prime your figures, the primer may take a very long time to dry, dry glossy, or never dry at all.  If it's especially hot and dry outside,  your primer will partially dry mid-way from the nozzle to the figure!  Yes, it's true!  It will end up very grainy, globular and nasty.  You'll have to strip the paint off and start over.  This typially happens in dry climates when the temperature is above 96 degrees Fahrenheit.

Primer Safety - Cover the area you prime at with something.  Priming can be messy.   Wear a paint respirator.  It's a hobby, y'know.... not something you wanna get cancer from.

My Recommendation- I use Krylon Flat White and Ultra-Flat Black Spray paints as primer. They're cheap, fast, and smooth.  When the mini's done, I use the Krylon Matte finish because it gives me the semi-gloss-to-matte ratio that I like. You can use Gloss or Polyeurethane spray if your figures will get heavy use and follow that up with Testors Dull-Cote.  Testors Dull-Cote is some of the flattest stuff out there.

Here's a neat trick ... PRIMING IN THE "BASE COLOR".  Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to paint 20 WWII soldiers by next week-end.   A great way to do a lot of work quickly is to prime them in a color that is the most dominant on the minaiture.  In this case, you could get a small can of Testors military flat spray paint in an Olive Drab or Bomber Tan color and prime with that.  Then you'd only need to paint the flesh, details, gun etc and you'd be done in no time!

So now that it's primered, you gotta put some sort of color on the damn thing, dont'cha?  Since we've had a discussion of the various "properties" of primer, we can have the same type of discussion about paint.  It pretty much boils down to the same thing: you gotta understand the properties of the various paints out there so you can get the results you want.  There is no "perfect" paint.  Some are close, but this is art, not science.

Thickness and Opacity aka "Cover" - You don't want paint to be so thick that it obscures detail.  Miniatures paints are typically acrylic paints that can be thinned with water - many times "on the fly" while you are painting the mini.  If it's too thick, add water.  If it's too thin, you can either add more paint, use it as a "wash" or simply wait a minute.

Smoothness and Drying Speed - Paints should be fairly smooth, but still "cover" well.  There are many good miniatures-specific paints out there sold at hobby stores that fit the bill nicely.  They are not all the same though.  Some dry very very quickly.  So quickly in fact that you are constantly adding water while painting just to keep the consistency the same.  This is a real pain.   You'll need to experiment.  One company has changed their formula recently to allow for a slower drying time, thank goodness.  Experiment with a wide variety of paints and use what works for you.  Don't get tied down to one manufacturer, but if you find something that works really really well, buy a lot and keep a couple of tins of it in your fridge.  You all know how the gaming scene is.... one minute it's available and the next minute they're out of production and the business has folded.

Red and Yellow - These are some of the most difficult colors to work with.  This rule even extends to house paint!  For some reason, the colors Red and Yellow just do not "cover" any other colors well.  People usually have to apply several coats to get the "true" color to shine as it should.  This is problematical in the miniatures painting game.  The more coats, the more it obscures detail.  This problem is solved by first painting the item with a white, light gray, tan... whatever paint that "covers" well, and then painting the red or yellow over that. 


On a budget?  Hell, who isn't these days?   Depicted above is a set of paints that I've used for years for most "basic" applications - Ceramacoat by Delta.   Available at most art stores near you.  Their flesh tones are not so hot, but their basic colors are pretty good.  You get a lot in a bottle and they're comparatively cheap.  Above are maybe half of the colors they make, and then you get to choose from straight-up ceramacoat to "Americana" or "Country Colors" which are slightly more drab than the regular stuff.   You will be using black and white a lot to mix custom colors.  Might as well pick up a couple of BIG bottles of the stuff!   Yeah, that's the ticket!

Lastly I'll give you a few rules of painting that I've learned over the years:

1.  There are no rules.  Do what you have to achieve the effect you need.  If you don't break a rule to get the needed effect, you've made a serious mistake.

2.  Practice makes perfect.  Extremism in the pursuit of good paint jobs is no vice.  Laziness in the pursuit of "efficiency" is no virtue.

3. There's more than one way to skin a cat.

4.  There's always something cleverer than yourself.  

5.  Never stop learning.  Everyone has something to teach.  Even if it is by negative example.

6.  Art is illusion.  It is a lie.  The artist is the one who can fool the eye and the mind the best.

and now on to painting 1b.....  technique!

The End of the Beginning