Tips for Everyone
On the surface, painting miniatures looks to be as easy as buying paints and supplies, obtaining some miniatures, laying out a workspace, and applying the paint. It is this simple to get paint on a miniature, but it probably won’t look anything like the incredible figures shown in the Warhammer Player’s Guide. After a few fumbled attempts most new painters hit the internet looking for techniques and tips for painting great looking miniatures and surely they find many!
Initial excitement drops to confusion after a few hours of research because of the vast quantity of information, some of which is contradictory. Some say use alcohol to thin with, others say to use Future Floor Polish, and then there are the esoteric home-brews with glycerin, Future, and of course snake oil. Some say go with only Games Workshop paints, while others argue craft paints such as Delta are all a painter really needs. Then there are the terms washing, inking, lining, dry brushing, basing, priming, …. brush sizes 0/3, 0/10, 0, 1, AHHHH!!! The eyes glaze over and the head explodes!
Fear not, I will briefly outline what any novice painter should know before they even touch a pot of paint. This is not a “painting guide” by any means, but is more of a primer to get a novice painter safely into the world of painting miniature figures without the typical newbie head explosion.
This is very important, read this line carefully… The workspace is one of the most overlooked aspect of painting. Before going out and buying a shiny box full of miniatures and a crate of paints, figure out where the painting is going to take place. I’ve had friends get started by spending 100 dollars on miniatures and 100 dollars on paints and supplies and then they haphazardly throw them across the kitchen table only to have paint knocked over, figures scratched, and the workspace moved every meal. The workspace is not an after thought. It is where all the magic happens!
Organize your workspace. Make or buy paint racks (check out my tutorial on how to make a cheap rack here), re-purpose or buy a desk, use a very comfortable chair at the right height (more on this later), build some shelving, and buy some storage bins. You want places to store your tools so you know exactly where they are. An organized and well thought out workspace will make your painting sessions much more enjoyable and productive.
Enlarge the image to the right in another window and follow along. Notice the two wheelie bins under the desk unit. I use these to store tools, terrain materials, paper, and misc. items. I have a small desktop organizer on the left wall that can be purchased for around 10 USD at a hardware store to hold extra miniature pieces. The racks are easy to make and inexpensive. The two-tier desktop rack on the right side can be purchased at Target or Walmart for around 10-15 USD. The shelves were purchased for roughly 10 USD. I re-purposed some scrap plexiglass to cover the top of my work table—cut to fit with a jigsaw. The plexiglass is very easy to clean up and can be cut on. On the far right of the picture is a metal rack that I hold all my model boxes and sets on. All these things help me organize my space and everything is within arms reach. I also keep a small netbook or computer tablet handy for looking up painting techniques and lore colors.
Correct Posture is a must for longer painting sessions. This seems like a dumb tip, but believe me I found out the hard way! After around two hours of painting my back used to kill me. I had to stop working and do something else for a few hours before it was back to normal. I found that it was because I slouched over the mini-fig while I painted to see the close details. I remedied this by simply lowering my chair. Be sure to adjust your chair and keep your back straight. It may seem like an odd position but now I can paint for 4+ hours without any fatigue at all.
Paints matter, but not as much as some people believe. A mini-fig painted by a total novice with even the best paints will look like crap, however a mini painted by one of the ‘Eavy Metal crew with Delta paints will look incredible. The painter is much more important than the paint. With that said, I do not recommend going out and only getting the cheapest paint. Buy some decent paints, but don’t be afraid to mix and match different brands. For example, the colors that I use a lot are black, white, gray, and the primary colors. For these, I have craft paint handy for most situations. I also only use craft paint on all my terrain structures because of how much coverage I need. One bunker could use an entire pot of GW Codex Gray, which starts to add up over time. For special colors such as metallics, I use GW (their metallics are some of the best out there.) I also use Reaper and P3. Just remember, especially at the beginner level, paints matter much less than the person using them. Don’t fret about getting a certain color from a certain line. Use what you have access to. You will have plenty of time to figure out the nuances of each brand or paint type further down the road.
Buy every brush you can get your hands on. There is no reason not to, they are so cheap. Go to Hobby Lobby or Michaels and buy 20+ brushes. All different sizes, from the smallest all the way up to some of the larger ones (they come in handy doing terrain.) No need to get picky. Do not worry about getting very high quality brushes right away. There will be plenty of time to get expert brushes after you learn a bit more.
Thinning is a must for most paints. This is what caused me the most trouble when I first began to paint. I knew I had to thin them, I never put them on straight out of the pot, but different people say wildly different things! I’ve heard so many different ratios and combinations that I wanted to just give up. I’ve heard the old quick method of “make sure it is the consistency of skim milk,” but who has skim milk sitting around to test their paint next to every time they mix? I certainly didn’t.
For most people they don’t know to thin at all, however my biggest problem for the longest time was thinning too much! It would take forever to get good coverage, the paint would always want to run into the cracks, it wouldn’t stay on top surfaces for highlights, and it would bubble. My suggestion to you is to mix a range of ratios and try them out on a black mini-figure. You want it to flow well but not all run to the lower regions for a base coat. For a wash it needs to flow more into the cracks but still stay slightly on the upper portion. Highlights need to be about the same as a base. The base coat should not take anymore than 2-3 coats to give a solid coverage for a typical table-top quality paint job. If you can’t get that, keep adjusting the ratio until it is obtained. You must use trial and error, there is not a one ratio fits every paint, person, or environment. There will be plenty of time to learn about blending and creating depth. At the start, its rewarding enough to simply have a clean paint job.
Oh yes, use distilled water. Buy a few gallons at the store for 70 cents each. No need for the exotic home-brew thinners until you get on up there in skill level and need to do very specific things.
Load that brush with paint! Don’t be one of those guys that dabs a bit here and there, it will look spotty. Once the ratio is correct load the paint brush nicely and give it a good base coat. Now that the paint is properly thinned, you don’t have to worry as much about covering the details. Lay it on there! Check this out: Painting Video. That is how you lay on a base coat, notice he really loads that brush up for a smooth and even coat (However, I would thin the paint unlike he does and do it in two coats.) Remember, table-top, gaming quality pieces are what you are after during your first few months of learning. More technical, centerpiece models need more care, but they are beyond the scope of the novice painter.
The most important aspect of learning to paint is to try new things all the time. Do not get stuck painting exactly like you read it because that could be entirely wrong for your paints, environment, figures, or even expectations. I followed a lot of guides that gave me (in my opinion) unsatisfactory results. This was because the person who wrote the guide liked that certain look or was pleased with the outcome of their style, but it did not suit my tastes. I thought I did their technique wrong, but actually it was simply not a good match. Be sure to constantly change your style if you are not progressing. Use more paint, use less paint, try different paint, use a bigger brush than you think you need, try a tiny brush, try not priming, etc. Do it all. Experiment. Most importantly keep an open mind and constantly push for more. This hobby is very individually oriented and some answers are only going to be found by you.